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First Thoughts Blog

Author: Gerrit Dawson, Senior Pastor

Looking Upward, Reaching Outward: 2021

We made it! 2020 is no more. If only turning the calendar would automatically restore the world. Change is coming, we know that. We have high hopes that the Covid vaccine will dramatically limit the virus. But will we ever go back to “normal?” A new presidential administration will certainly be different. Will it be good for the people of Christ who hold to our historical values? The tension about race and equality will tighten. Will it resolve in more harmony? It’s a new year and I’m daunted by the challenges already!
 
Thankfully, the church of Jesus does not retreat when the future seems uncertain. Your leadership certainly hasn’t. We are deeply committed to proclaiming the ancient gospel in a way that addresses the concerns of these times. We believe our highest purpose is public worship of the Triune God in word, song and prayer. We have good tidings to make known, a Lord to glorify and love to share. On January 24, you will hear our new officers take their ordination vows, committing themselves to the Lord Jesus, to his Word and to the work of his church. I’ve read their testimonies and heard their faith: you will be so moved by this upward call!
 
The session recently made commitments to direct nearly a million dollars over the next three years to fund our mission priorities. We are blessed to have endowment income through the McLaurin Trust and the church Foundation. Our policy is to never use such funds for the general mission, ministry and operation of the church: that’s the joyful job of current members. Rather, we push endowment income outward. So, we intend to support Gardere Community Christian School with $100,000 a year. We purpose to give $100,000 yearly to church planting, including $75,000 annually to the Church of the Resurrection, our thriving daughter church in New Orleans. And we plan on designating $125,000 a year for the Session Income Allocation Committee which makes recommendations for funding future leaders going to seminary as well as supporting other missions in our community. We’re determined to reach outward.
 
Meanwhile, your faith, participation and funding energizes the daily work of the church. Our partnerships with 30 local ministries continue to flourish (We’ve got a Habitat House to build in 2021!). And our members increasingly enter the mission field of their lives (whatever they are doing) with an awareness that they are Christ’s ambassadors in word and deed. A stellar staff team leads ministry with and to every age as we press into Christ and his Word. In fact, we want to raise the level of our commitment to children, youth and their families. The session recently approved a search for an Associate Pastor to energize and oversee that work.
 
By God’s grace and in the Spirit’s power, we’re propelling forward, dear church. We know how important it is that we hold tight to one another, sharing life in all its joys and pains as only a community of Christ can. I’m so glad to be traveling with you!
 

A Christmas to Remember and a Year to Forget!

Ever since I was old enough to understand the concept, I’ve been sad when one year passes to another. But this year, well, I’m ready to be done with 2020! We’ve seen a ridiculous amount of upheavals followed by more upheavals. Fresh start, please!  
 
Thankfully, Christmas is coming. I’ll be pining for standing room only packed out live nativities and Christmas Eve services. But we can’t do any sardining now! Still, we’ve had our creative caps on trying to figure out how we can get all the people who want to keep Christmas with us attending in a safe way. Details are to follow, but we’re deep into exploring having outdoor services run concurrently with indoor services! Including one with animals! We’re considering implementing a ticket system so we don’t have to turn people away, but can offer folks a seat at that the service they choose in the venue they choose with good distancing. Yes, it’s going to be different. But when I think about being in the terraced garden, with a fire blazing in the fireplace, bundled up and raising our candles in the dark, it sounds pretty Christmassy to me! Pray for your elders ands staff as we make decisions, and watch our website and bulletins for more details.
 
Our December sermons will be built around Lost Verses of Famous Carols. We had a lot of fun several years ago uncovering seldom sung lyrics in beloved Christmas songs. Well, we’ve found some more little known words from O Little Town of Bethlehem, Silent Night, O Come All Ye Faithful and Hark! the Herald Angels Sing. So we not only get to sing these great carols, we get to dive deep into their content.
 
I’m very excited about the new advent calendar that’s been created for our daily readings during this sacred month. Beautifully designed by Katie Robinson, Katie Forsthoff and Mitzi Barber, the readings are coordinated with our sermons and include lovely breath prayers to take you deeper.
 
Meanwhile, we look forward to a special Sunday of music on December 13. The worship team and chancel choir will combine with an orchestra to present “Hail the Blessed Morn,” a program highlighting the rich musical tradition we have at our church through Christmas favorites.
 
 
Movies You’re Not Supposed to See
 
Tired of formulaic Christmas movies? Want to think more deeply about what’s going on in our society? I have three movies for you that challenge the status quo. Each is disturbing, provocative and rousing. I believe you can’t not view these films as part of the ongoing dialogue in our culture. Each one makes a well-produced, captivating watch. Unplanned. This is the story of Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood clinic director who discovered the economics of the abortion industry, the dehumanization of women clients, and the horror of the procedures. Uncle Tom: A Narrative History of Black Conservatism. Prominent African Americans challenge the narrative of dependence.  The Social Dilemma. Former creators and executives from Google, Instagram and Facebook warn of the monster they created through the algorithms of manipulation on our favorite media sites. A chilling warning. I’d love to hear how you respond.
 
Yes, 2020 may be a year to forget, but it only makes me more eager to keep a joyful Christmas with you dear flock!
 

Introduction to Psalm 31

Jesus prayed Psalm 31 from the cross. But it contains a lot more than we didn’t hear him quote but is very meaningful to us.

Psalm 31
 
In you, O LORD, do I take refuge;
let me never be put to shame;
in your righteousness deliver me!
Incline your ear to me;
rescue me speedily!
Be a rock of refuge for me,
a strong fortress to save me!
 
For you are my rock and my fortress;
and for your name’s sake you lead me and guide me;
you take me out of the net they have hidden for me,
for you are my refuge.
Into your hand I commit my spirit;
you have redeemed me, O LORD, faithful God.
 
I hate those who pay regard to worthless idols,
but I trust in the LORD.
I will rejoice and be glad in your steadfast love,
because you have seen my affliction;
you have known the distress of my soul,
and you have not delivered me into the hand of the enemy;
you have set my feet in a broad place.
 
Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am in distress;
my eye is wasted from grief;
my soul and my body also.
For my life is spent with sorrow,
and my years with sighing;
my strength fails because of my iniquity,
and my bones waste away.
 
Because of all my adversaries I have become a reproach,
especially to my neighbors,
and an object of dread to my acquaintances;
those who see me in the street flee from me.
I have been forgotten like one who is dead;
I have become like a broken vessel.
For I hear the whispering of many—
terror on every side!—
as they scheme together against me,
as they plot to take my life.
 
But I trust in you, O LORD;
I say, “You are my God.”
My times are in your hand;
rescue me from the hand of my enemies and from my persecutors!
Make your face shine on your servant;
save me in your steadfast love!
O LORD, let me not be put to shame,
for I call upon you;
let the wicked be put to shame;
let them go silently to Sheol.
Let the lying lips be mute,
which speak insolently against the righteous
in pride and contempt.
 
Oh, how abundant is your goodness,
which you have stored up for those who fear you
and worked for those who take refuge in you,
in the sight of the children of mankind!
In the cover of your presence you hide them
from the plots of men;
you store them in your shelter
from the strife of tongues.
 
Blessed be the LORD,
for he has wondrously shown his steadfast love to me
when I was in a besieged city.
I had said in my alarm,
“I am cut off from your sight.”
But you heard the voice of my pleas for mercy
when I cried to you for help.
 
Love the LORD, all you his saints!
The LORD preserves the faithful
but abundantly repays the one who acts in pride.
Be strong, and let your heart take courage,
all you who wait for the LORD!

Introduction to Psalm 30

Make time with the LORD a habit. Meet him at the edge of each day with Psalm 30. Hope comes with the morning, the new light, a new day.

Psalm 30

I will extol you, O LORD, for you have drawn me up
and have not let my foes rejoice over me.
O LORD my God, I cried to you for help,
and you have healed me.
O LORD, you have brought up my soul from Sheol;
you restored me to life from among those who go down to the pit.

Sing praises to the LORD, O you his saints,
and give thanks to his holy name.
For his anger is but for a moment,
and his favor is for a lifetime.
Weeping may tarry for the night,
but joy comes with the morning.
As for me, I said in my prosperity,
“I shall never be moved.”

By your favor, O LORD,
you made my mountain stand strong;
you hid your face;
I was dismayed.

To you, O LORD, I cry,
and to the Lord I plead for mercy:
“What profit is there in my death,
if I go down to the pit?

Will the dust praise you?
Will it tell of your faithfulness?
Hear, O LORD, and be merciful to me!
O LORD, be my helper!”

You have turned for me my mourning into dancing;
you have loosed my sackcloth
and clothed me with gladness,
that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent.
O LORD my God, I will give thanks to you forever!

 
 

Would I Feel Richer If . . .

Would I feel richer if I gave away less money? I asked myself that recently. Several annual commitments to mission groups had come due. We set up some college funds for the grandchildren. We sent some other people support. And of course we always make our church gift. Wow, we just got paid and it’s almost gone! What happened to the going-out-to-dinner money? And the new fall clothes allowance? I mean, what if we just stopped giving so much away? Would we be happier? Would it feel like my bank account was bigger? 
 
I thought hard about that. I tried on the possibility that I’d feel fuller if I had more cash staying home. For a second, it thrilled me. Man we could have some big fun! In another second, it scared me. Would I ever risk going back to not tithing? I recalled the weight of being responsible for finances without God. I shuddered remembering when the balance of our spending was weighted toward doing what we wanted to do. Burdened on the outside, thin on the inside. That’s how I felt in those years.
 
Then I thought about what it means to be invested in our church. To know we’re running in our lane, shoulder to shoulder with the remarkably committed believers here. If we weren’t prioritizing our church, I’d feel like a pretender in front of you. Instead, I know this is our family of faith. I fill up inside thinking of all our church is and does. And suddenly I feel humbled, even thankful that we get to contribute. That’s the word: we get to. And if we didn’t, I’d feel diminished, shut out, longing to find a tangible way to declare, “We’re in! We’re in with you.”
 
I thought about other ministries we love. And that’s the word: love. Our family loves Gardere, Dunham, Caring to Love, the Magruders and others. If we didn’t give, we’d have more money. But less love. Which means less joy.
 
I also realized how much I value living in the flow of God’s blessing love. He pours in, and in reply we try to pour out, responsibly but proportionally. If we just kept it, like a dammed up pond, we’d stagnate spiritually, emotionally and even financially. We wouldn’t be as thankful, we wouldn’t feel God’s care as much, and I’m pretty sure, even if we had more dollars for a while, we’d feel not rich but poor. 
 
Lesson learned for your pastor! I peered over the edge and realized, in my gut, what a joy it is to get to give
 
 
Foto Sisters to Join Us for Service of Healing and Hope
 
As the holidays approach, the sadness of loss also rises. Many of us bear the pain of having lost very young children. Perhaps through miscarriage, through accidents or infant illnesses, through abortion or still birth. The sorrow remains. And our church would like to offer a tender touch. Sunday afternoon, November 8 at 4 pm in the Sanctuary, we will have a memorial service of healing and hope. The Foto Sisters will lead our music. God has used them to bring a unique healing touch to people all over the country. Please free to invite others from outside our church to join us for this quiet, prayerful hour.
 
Abby Johnson to Speak 
 
This year’s annual Caring to Love banquet features Abby Johnson, the former Planned Parenthood executive whose views transformed the day she assisted an abortion. Now a Christian and ardent defender of life, Abby’s story was told in the feature film Unplanned and the book by the same name. Tickets are available online at ctlm.org. First Presbyterian also has a limited number of deeply discounted tickets available for $20, please email jaci@fpcbr.org for info. Thursday, November 12, 6.30 pm at the Marriot. 
 
Perimeter Construction
 
Pay attention! Over the next two months our church campus will undergo the security and beautification upgrades that your Session approved last spring. As the project progresses, please pay attention to signage that will direct you to available entrances. Your patience is appreciated. You’re going to love the final result!
 

Introduction to Psalm 25: 1-7

Remember me not according to the sins of my youth but according to the LORD's own character. He is merciful.
 

 
 
Psalm 25: 1–7
 
To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul.
O my God, in you I trust;
let me not be put to shame;
let not my enemies exult over me.
Indeed, none who wait for you shall be put to shame;
they shall be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.
Make me to know your ways, O LORD;
teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I wait all the day long.
Remember your mercy, O LORD, and your steadfast love,
for they have been from of old.
Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
according to your steadfast love remember me,
for the sake of your goodness, O LORD!

Stitching It Up!

Surely this is one of the strangest years ever! Everything can seem upside down. Just when we need each other, we can’t touch and can’t meet. It seems like we’ve lived in a fog for the last seven months. What happened to 2020?
 
A lot of things have fallen away. We’ve learned to live without watching sports all the time (OK, so some diehards did watch the bean bag tossing championships. We pray for their souls.). We’ve grown to like having a less frenetic pace. But we’ve missed parties and barbecues and hugs. And church. If you’ve been back in the Sanctuary since the pandemic began, you know how great it feels. To be in the house of the Lord with his people. The soaring ceilings. The beautiful wood. The ascension window. All the memories. To hear the music. To sing, even in a mask. To know that the church is still the church. How very precious our church is to us.
 
As the fall months come, we’re working hard to re-gather our congregation. On September 13 we will return to two Sanctuary worship services: Contemporary at 9 and Classic Reformed at 11. Sunday school will resume at 10.10 on Sundays. We’re learning to gather in ways that are as safe as we can. But I know it will take an effort. We’ve got to overcome the rhythm of just staying at home. We’ve got to push against the inertia of isolation. We’ve got to put up with the inconvenience of safety measures. We’re taking a gamble that we can fill in two worship services with enough people that it doesn’t feel like we’re in a cavern. I think it’s time! Come to church! Invite others to come. Let’s stitch up the fabric of our fellowship, one returning worshiper at a time.
 
As the weather cools later in October (Amen, may it be so!), we want to do more outside gatherings. Imagine a huge tent on the terraced garden. And a Kirkin’ celebration outside. What if we could have our Christmas cantata outside on North Blvd. one December Sunday? What if Christmas Eve could accommodate 1,500 people because we made it a Journey to Bethlehem, touring with candlelight in groups through the stages of the Nativity Story, ending in the Sanctuary with communion? There are so many possibilities that can open up with a change in temperature. We will be an adventurous congregation!
 
Meanwhile, let’s stay tethered through our individual praying of the Psalms. I love reading a psalm knowing that hundreds of you are praying it that morning too. It’s not too late to connect through a Shepherding through Psalms group. Just contact Darin Travis or Kelly Wood.
 
I’m also happy to report how your generosity reaches into our city and around the world. We received about $75,000 in our Neighbors Fund and have already disbursed half of it to individuals and ministry partners. We continue to keep a watch out for needs related to COVID-19, and thanks to you can act quickly to help. Also, the session approved sending $20,000 to the Philemon Project, an EPC ministry in Beirut that cares for orphaned children. The recent explosion that devastated the city has made the need desperate. We’re grateful to help.
 
On Sunday evening, September 20, I’d like to host you in the Sanctuary for a workshop entitled Countering Cancel Culture. We’ll take up the ideas we began considering in the message that contrasted the Christian and Marxist worldview.  
 
Finally, our music department will host a fun night called “A Night of Social Distanc-SING!” on September 17 in the Sanctuary. Our great singers will bring their talents for a delightful evening of celebrating the gift of music.
 
Onward, beloved congregation. Your faith inspires me. Your faithfulness astounds me. It’s so natural to love being your pastor.
 

Weekly Psalms Readings

Praying the Psalm of the Week Five Different Ways! 
 
Monday: As a Personal Prayer 
 
Read the psalm to get a sense of it. 
Read again, listening for phrases that grab you, then ponder those.
Pray the psalm aloud a third time, as a prayer of your life.
 
Tuesday: As a Prayer of Jesus 
 
Read the psalm once. 
Read the psalm aloud, imagining that Jesus is praying it.
Say “My Father” whenever you see LORD or God.
Ponder at what stage in his life this psalm might have fit Jesus.
Pray the psalm a third time joined to Jesus’ prayers.
 
Wednesday: For Someone You Love
 
Hold someone you love in mind as you read the psalm aloud. Consider how its words relate to their life. Pray it aloud again as if your loved one were praying it. 
 
Thursday: As Part of Community
 
Follow the same pattern, only today pray the psalm imagining that you are surrounded by fellow Christians in a great worship service. Imagine as you pray it aloud twice that everyone is vocalizing it together.
 
Friday: For Someone Who Is Difficult or Hostile
 
Follow the same pattern, only today pray the psalm imagining someone you struggle to love: even, especially, if it seems unlikely this person would ever pray a psalm!  
 
 
 

August 10-14     Psalm 23

 

Restoring Your Soul Through Psalms

This wretched distancing goes on! Yet so does the need to connect to others. And to God. Our hearts are still made to be in communion. So how do we stay connected in isolation? This month we begin a series of interlocking ways to encounter Christ through the Psalms. I’d like to tell you about it in advance of a mailing you’ll receive next week. 
 
For 3,000 years, the LORD’s people have climbed the stairways of words that are the Psalms. By making these prayers their own prayers, they have ascended through psalms straight into God’s presence. The Psalms were the very prayer book of Jesus himself. We find Christ’s heart for his Father when we pray psalms in communion with Jesus. We get drawn close to each other when we pray psalms together and for one another. We even find words to pray for our enemies when we pray psalms on behalf of those hostile to us! Psalms express our souls; they also transform our souls, taking us deeper than we could ever go on our own.
 
This fall, for 100 days, we’re going to hone in on the Psalms. Spiritual riches beyond price reside in these songs. So I’ll be inviting you to engage these psalms in a variety of practices. 
 
Next week, you’ll receive in the actual mail a beautiful bookmark with the schedule of psalms we are studying and five ways—one for each week day—we can pray the psalms with different people in mind. Beginning August 10, each Monday you’ll receive by email a three-minute video introducing the psalm of the week, and then, the following Sunday we’ll use that psalm in worship. And, very exciting to me, for three Sunday evenings at 5 pm, we’ll be launching by livestream special presentations introducing these psalms. Guest speakers include one of my spiritual heroes, Malcolm Guite from Cambridge, and one of Darin’s heroes, Mark Futato from Reformed Theological Seminary. We’re hoping those of you with big TVs and spacious seating areas will host watch parties. And consider joining a Shepherding Through the Psalms group to encourage one another. These groups will consist of 3-6 friends who will weekly connect with each other via a text, phone call, lunch or coffee—whatever works best for you. Spur one another on by discussing what you’re learning from the psalm of the week, how the prayer rhythms are going, and how to intentionally pray for each other. For more information visit fpcbr.org. To sign up as a group shepherd or member, email Kelly Wood.
 
 

Restoring Your Soul Through Psalms

This wretched distancing goes on! Yet so does the need to connect to others. And to God. Our hearts are still made to be in communion. So how do we stay connected in isolation? This month we begin a series of interlocking ways to encounter Christ through the Psalms. I’d like to tell you about it in advance of a mailing you’ll receive next week. 
 
For 3,000 years, the LORD’s people have climbed the stairways of words that are the Psalms. By making these prayers their own prayers, they have ascended through psalms straight into God’s presence. The Psalms were the very prayer book of Jesus himself. We find Christ’s heart for his Father when we pray psalms in communion with Jesus. We get drawn close to each other when we pray psalms together and for one another. We even find words to pray for our enemies when we pray psalms on behalf of those hostile to us! Psalms express our souls; they also transform our souls, taking us deeper than we could ever go on our own.
 
This fall, for 100 days, we’re going to hone in on the Psalms. Spiritual riches beyond price reside in these songs. So I’ll be inviting you to engage these psalms in a variety of practices. 
 
Next week, you’ll receive in the actual mail a beautiful bookmark with the schedule of psalms we are studying and five ways—one for each week day—we can pray the psalms with different people in mind. Beginning August 10, each Monday you’ll receive by email a three-minute video introducing the psalm of the week, and then, the following Sunday we’ll use that psalm in worship. And, very exciting to me, for three Sunday evenings at 5 pm, we’ll be launching by livestream special presentations introducing these psalms. Guest speakers include one of my spiritual heroes, Malcolm Guite from Cambridge, and one of Darin’s heroes, Mark Futato from Reformed Theological Seminary. We’re hoping those of you with big TVs and spacious seating areas will host watch parties. And consider joining a Shepherding Through the Psalms group to encourage one another. These groups will consist of 3-6 friends who will weekly connect with each other via a text, phone call, lunch or coffee—whatever works best for you. Spur one another on by discussing what you’re learning from the psalm of the week, how the prayer rhythms are going, and how to intentionally pray for each other. For more information visit fpcbr.org. To sign up as a group shepherd or member, email Kelly Wood.
 
 
 
Global Mission Conference
 
I’m so pleased that our speaker this year is Rev. Brian Miller. Brian and his wife Katherine work with sex trafficked girls in Medellin, Colombia. He is a passionate and eloquent speaker.
 
 
LSU Prayer Walk
 
Saturday morning, August 15 at 8.15 am we will meet at the LSU Student Union to spend an hour walking the campus and praying for our university. In particular we will pray for our international students. Prayer walking is safe, fun, discrete and powerful. Full instructions will be given. Come casual.
 
 
 

American Privilege

Super Shuttle had forgotten me at the Orlando Airport. Only Uber Black (that’s the really nice cars!) was available. My driver was gregarious. Born in Haiti, he had come to America in his teens to play soccer. Now he was a proud U.S. citizen. “I love this country,” he said. “The electricity works all the time. I came here with nothing but soccer skills. Then my knee blew out, but I got great medical care. I worked hard, and now I have my own driving business. My wife became an accountant. We have such a great life here. I love America.”
 
In troubled times, when we’re straining to do better as a nation, it helps to remember just why so many people from around the world want to be here. To me, any discussion about our nation needs to begin with grateful acknowledgement of American Privilege. It flows across the tapestry of ethnicities that make up our nation of immigrants. As my driver said, the electricity works all day long. So does the in-flow of clean water, and, importantly, the out-flow of sewage. I’m thankful every Tuesday for the infrastructure of sanitation. They actually take my garbage away! (If I make the effort to put it in the bin.)  
 
All anyone has to do in a crisis is dial 911. Within minutes, fire, ambulance or police come no matter who you are. Emergency rooms treat any and every one who comes with astounding medical care, whether you can pay or not. Education from pre-K to high school is available to every citizen, including free transportation. Our schools provide ten meals a week to those who need them. Public assistance offers vouchers for food; housing for the disabled and disadvantaged; a host of services to the elderly, those fighting cancer, the demented, the physically handicapped; or those with other special needs. 
 
We have 2.7 million miles of paved roads. Pollution controls have cleaned up the air we breathe. Public libraries are heated and cooled for comfort as they offer both print and electronic resources for free to all. There is land to spread out to. There is natural beauty of such variety and magnitude that it takes your breath away. At the city, state and national level we have beautiful parks. Our nation’s resources have created an overflowing abundance of goods in which everyone can participate. (A Ralph Lauren polo shirt for $2 at the Purple Cow: amazing!) Opportunity for social and economic mobility continues to be the envy of the world. The mightiest military in history protects us. 
 
We freely elect our government officials. We govern by rule of law, with powers divided between three branches, the model of liberty for the world. We still have remarkable freedom to express our opinions and exercise our religion. Moreover, we have the ability to critique ourselves, to have the conversations that lead to change.  
 
Are we perfect? Of course not! But this July 4, I want to begin with gratitude for all we have. And respect for those who sacrificed and labored and fought to make it so. Would I prefer the level of religious freedom that’s in Saudi Arabia? Or machine guns on every street corner like in Cairo? Would I prefer the surveillance culture of China? The heritage of ethnic genocides in Bosnia or Rwanda? The dictatorship of Russia? The poverty of the socialist experiment in Venezuela? No, thank you to all of the above.
 
Even the least among us have great privilege. Even the poor among us have, in the world context, great wealth. American privilege is a precious, priceless privilege that undergirds all our national conversations. We must begin, continue and conclude in gratitude for this nation in which God has seen fit to place us. 
 
Happy Independence Day!
 

Masquerading Worship

Feeling a bit like Darth Vader in my mask, I walked through the Sanctuary greeting a number of families who had come to the confirmation service. I found comfort that we were all doing the same. From a safe distance, I said, “It’s like a masquerade ball. Or a Halloween party. You feel ridiculous getting ready. But once you see that everyone else has on a costume, it’s ok.”  Indeed, it was ok. No, I’m not a big fan of breathing back my own breath. But I get it. We’re helping each other. We’re making the best of the situation given to us. And I’m awfully proud that you are making the effort to regather our congregation in the Sanctuary while following the safest recommendations in a spirit of adventure. Of course you are!
 
Now I don’t mind telling you, leadership in an unchartered crisis is exhausting! Every week, sometimes every other day, we have to pivot. We have to adapt. To plot a new course knowing it might change overnight. I’ve been so impressed with the flexibility and innovation and sheer hard work of our on-the-ground staff. Our team bowls me over with the way they’ve communicated and created worship and ministry for all of us in these strange days.
 
Lately, I’ve found a place to be peaceful. I think our elders have found that same place. We’re sheltering in the leadership that is above us. We’re thankful for and praying for our freely elected government. As long as what the state asks doesn’t compel us to compromise the gospel or doesn’t egregiously and specifically target people of faith, we are glad to follow. To be part of Team Louisiana.   
 
This gives us two strong directions. On the one hand, we want to do everything that is permitted to us to do. Our business is gathered worship. We exist to proclaim the gospel in community for the community. So when we can open at 25%, we do. We energetically embrace what we may do, offering the best we can give to the most who can come. On the other hand, we accept what is prescribed for our safety. If sanitizing, distancing and masking is what is asked, we’re happy to do it. It’s not fun. But it’s what is called for. And that makes me peaceful. 
 
I don’t want to try to think I know better. Nor do I want to live in fear. I want to live boldly within the guidance of what is both permitted and safe. Down this road, lies peace, restoration and love for our community. Just think, no one has ever done this before! We’ll always remember this time. I will always remember your overwhelming love for your church and commitment to our ministry in the heart of Baton Rouge. These days, it’s easy as pie to say I love being your pastor!
 
Gratitude for Steve Rushing 
 
The director of our chancel choir ends his tenure with us this month. Dr. Steve Rushing has partnered with me in leading Classic Reformed Worship for the last fifteen years. His outstanding full-time vocal teaching at Southeastern University and then at Baton Rouge International School have meant that Steve’s service to us has always been on a quarter-time basis. With the arrival of our first full-time worship director who is fluent in both classic and contemporary styles, there is too much overlap to continue with two choir directors. So it is with both sadness and gratitude that we bid farewell to Steve in his official capacity. 
 
But first, we want to celebrate his work among us. Steve raised high the excellence of our choir program. He established the reputation of our music throughout the community and especially amidst the musicians in town. His gracious spirit and love for all kinds of music played a significant role in healing tensions that once existed between our worship styles. Steve has freely offered vocal lessons to many members, taking a personal interest in his choir and enhancing the careers of our student singers. And that voice! Could anyone else have sung the voice of God in Roots and Promises? The annual cantatas with orchestra have become a beloved tradition among us. Seeing and hearing Steve’s great pleasure in getting the most out of his singers and musicians communicates joy to all of us. We will miss his humor, his spiritual insights and his collegiality. 
 
Though social distancing limits our options, we can still heartily celebrate Steve on Sunday, June 21 at the 11 am service. We all want to express our appreciation for this fine Christian man, musician and vocalist. 
 

We’re Rolling! Gathered Worship: Safe and Soaring!

Last Sunday, we gathered for worship and worked through the newness of masks and social distancing. The joy was palpable from singing and praying in the same room. It was great to be back.

So join us! No need to sign up. Just come for 9 am Contemporary and 11 am Classic Reformed.

As of now, there is no gathered Sunday school or nursery, but we will let you know as soon as this is figured out. For the foreseeable future, we will continue to follow guidelines regarding wearing masks, using the North Blvd entrance, and sitting in designated distancing areas by household groups.

Two Wonderful and Weird Services

Wonderful because we can be together in our Sanctuary.

Weird because we have to wear masks and continue with those annoying social distancing practices.

Service times have changed to 9 am and 11 am.

For those worshiping in the Sanctuary, plan to arrive early and use the North Boulevard entrance. We're asking everyone to please wear a mask.

Both services will continue to be livestreamed.

There will be no Sunday school or nursery provided.

How I Went from Worry to Hope

Anxiety. I had it. When our isolation first began, we had to pivot everything. I worried. Would the congregation hold together or fragment? Would people drift apart? Would people decide they don’t really need a church after all? Personally, I had to wrestle with the question, “What exactly is the point of a pastor anyway?” 
 
Staying-at-home offered more time. God led me deeper into his Word. I felt his presence more in prayer. When my sense of self and worry for the church started to wash out with the tide of worry, the Spirit of Christ Jesus flowed in through these times of reflective prayer and study. That, after all, is what our beliefs have told us all along: the Spirit is the glue who keeps us joined to Christ and to one another. He is the magnetic force of our communion. He is the skin and sinew of the body of Christ, keeping us whole. 
 
How wonderful it has been to see the Spirit cohering our church. You didn’t drift away or apart! If the stats are correct, more people, not fewer, are entering the worship we offer. Your beautiful video testimonies have linked us across all ages and stages. Hundreds of you have been checking on hundreds of you! Hundreds of boxes of food have been shared with the community. People continue to meet through Zoom or by phone. Giving continues. The staff pivoted to engage our members and produce our worship and communication, learning more and updating every week. In all, our church has proved herself dedicated, agile and energetic. I’m so thankful, and I’m so proud of you! I’m filled with hope.
 
Neighbors Helping Neighbors
 
The session has called for a special offering to be collected during May to offer relief to our members and neighbors during the pandemic. The first $10,000 will go to the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank, as we’ve tragically seen how hunger is a real need in our city. The second $10,000 will assist the Christian Outreach Center in their work resettling the homeless population (the pandemic led to the clearing of several “tent villages” in the city). Further gifts will go to our church’s Helping Hands fund to assist church members, partner ministries and neighbors affected by this crisis. We know there will be personal needs when the ripple of government support runs out. We will be offering “grace grants” to church members, who can apply discretely through Barry Phillips. We’d love to help our members over a rough patch, trusting that in years to come, as they are able, they will give back to this same Helping Hands fund. You can give online or through checks marked “Neighbors Fund.” 
 
 
Emerging: May 17?!
 
In an unprecedented crisis, everything is always subject to change. But in hope, we plan using the best information we have. Our hope is that limited gathered worship will resume Sunday, May 17. That looks like two Sanctuary services, 9 am and 11 am, with capacity for 150 worshipers. We will have 50 to 60 sections marked off for family groups or singles to sit while maintaining distance. We will offer sign up online or by phone so we hopefully won’t have to turn anyone away. We will still offer “up close” livestreaming for those at home. Other precautions related to sanitizing will be taken. More details to come the week of May 10. This means we will plan now to go ahead with our Confirmation service at 4 pm on May 17. If demand warrants, we may be able to add an afternoon service in the future. We’ll all have to stay nimble and watch for updates.
 
 
Staff Changes 
 
Happy news: welcome Jaime Carnaggio as our new Director of Women’s Ministry. Jaime has served on our staff since 2015 as an assistant in Children’s Ministry and then with our women. She’s full of love for Christ, her family and our people. She’s a deep, energetic and engaging Bible teacher. She connects to women of all ages and has a passion for sharing Jesus through his Word. While Jaime served 6 months as our interim director, it became clear that she was growing with the job, getting more effective as her responsibilities grew. The session has delightedly endorsed her in this new position.
 
Sad news: the Cato family is moving to Texas in July. Kinch has taken a position as assistant head of a Christian school in Fort Worth. That means we will be losing Audra, who has worked so effectively for a decade. She began leading the renovation of our nursery ministry, turning it into one of our most successful programs. Then we asked her to lead Childhood Ministry, and we’ve seen wonderful growth in the depth of ministry and in numbers of children. We’re going to miss Kinch, Audra, Robert and Helen, but we pray a wonderful new life for them, knowing they will bless many wherever they are. Meanwhile, join us in prayer as we search for a new staff leader in Childhood. 
 

Lent - Day 42

Day 42  Saturday

JESUS

 

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

Matthew 28: 16-20
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
 
Luke 24: 36-53
As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them.
 
Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”
 
And he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God.
 

CAST NOTES

Jesus is really risen. He ate broiled fish before his disciples. One of my favorite images of a real resurrection came through actor Bruce Kuhn. As he recited this episode from Luke, Bruce pretended to pick a fish bone from his teeth. It hit me: this was a real man, risen from the dead. Still Jesus. Of course, he was also transformed, outfitted for an eternal, embodied life, always our brother and advocate.
 
The protagonist of Passion Week has won, against all odds, his great victory. He has withdrawn now until the time of his return to set all things right. So this is the age of the mission of the church. We tell the story of our hero that all might know he is a worthy and sufficient Savior. So all might bend the knee to his kingship. So that all might raise their voice in saving worship as we declare, “Jesus is Lord!” 
 
We live now connected to Jesus by his Spirit that he has sent to dwell in our hearts, to inspire our worship, to grow the fruit of love in our lives and empower our witness. We go forth under the blessing hands and shining face of the ascending, still incarnate Jesus Christ.
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

For centuries, this short message by John Chrysostom, has been read every Easter in churches throughout the world. We will make it our final prayer as we anticipate our Easter worship tomorrow.
 
Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free.
He has destroyed it by enduring it.
He destroyed Hell when He descended into it.
He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh.
 
Isaiah foretold this when he said,
“You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below. ”
Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with.
It was in an uproar because it is mocked.
It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed.
It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated.
It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive.
 
Hell took a body, and discovered God.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.
 
O Death, where is thy sting?
O Hell, where is thy victory?
 
Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!
Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!
 
Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead;
for Christ having risen from the dead,
is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
 
To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen.
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).

 

 

Lent - Day 41

Day 41  Friday

PETER, PART 4


That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

John 21: 15-19
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”
 

CAST NOTES

After that wonderful breakfast on the beach, Jesus turned his attention directly on Peter. “Do you love me more than these?” I imagine Peter, full of heart, delighted to be asked to express his ardor for Jesus, “You know I love you!” The second questioning, however, might have baffled him. Peter didn’t mind reassuring Jesus. But his affections were never hidden. Of course he loved Jesus. The third inquiry cut Peter to the quick. How could Jesus keep questioning the deepest, truest part of Peter’s very life? What a moment of understanding it must have been when it dawned on Peter. Three times he had denied Jesus. Three times he would be asked to affirm his love to Jesus and before others. These questions were meant for restoration!
 
Years before, as Luke 5 tells us, in the first great catch of fish, Peter had dropped to his knees, ashamed of his sinfulness before Jesus of such holy power. Jesus had assured him of forgiveness by giving him a mission: from now on you will be a fisher of people. Here on the beach Jesus restores Peter by re-missioning him. Feed my sheep! 
 
So, too, we get forgiven and restored, we get opportunity to worship and express our love not just as ends in themselves, but so we can enter the mission Jesus has for us! 
 
With this episode in mind, we can see how personal was Peter’s praise in the first letter we have from him, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1 Peter 1: 3). Indeed, the resurrection turned the dead despair of Peter’s denial into relief so great it made him new and filled him with living hope.
 
Peter’s final benediction in that letter also arises from his profound personal experience, “And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen (1 Peter 5: 10-11).
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

Hold this scene of restoration and re-missioning in mind as you pray aloud Peter’s own words of praise and hope:
 
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! 
According to his great mercy, 
he has caused us to be born again 
into a living hope 
through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading,
kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power 
are being guarded through faith for a salvation 
ready to be revealed in the last time.
In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved with various trials,
So that the tested genuiness of your faith—
More precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—
May be found to result in praise and glory and honor
At the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Though you have not seen him, you love him.
Thought you do not now see him, you believe in him,
And rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory,
Obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 
(1 Peter 1: 3-9)
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).


ENCORE

 
Imagine the joy Peter had after Jesus reinstated him! Jesus demanded that he declare his love, and Peter, tested to his core, declared his love for Jesus passionately. Jesus told him to go and feed his sheep. Peter would fulfill that command. His sermons in Acts skillfully, ardently proclaim the news about Jesus. 
 
Soren Kierkegaard wrote,
 
As God created man and woman, so too He fashioned the hero and the poet, or orator. The poet cannot do what that other does, he can only admire, love and rejoice in the hero. Yet he too is happy, and not less so, for the hero is as it were his better nature, with which he is in love, rejoicing in the fact that this after all is not himself, that his love can be admiration. He is the genius of recollection, can do nothing except call to mind what has been done. . . . He follows the option of his heart, but when he has found what he sought, he wanders before everyman’s door with his song and with his oration, that all may admire the hero as he does, be proud of the hero as he is (as quoted in Raniero Cantalamessa, Remember Jesus Christ, 2007, p. 77).
 
Peter well knew that he was not the hero of our redemption story. Jesus is the one hero. Peter rejoiced to take the part of troubadour. His two letters as well as his testimony in Acts overflow with admiration for his champion, Jesus.  
 
And so Peter urged all of us to join him as an orator for Christ, whatever the size of audience, “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3: 15, NIV).
 
 

 

Lent - Day 40

Day 40  Thursday

DISCIPLES, PART 3

 

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

John 21: 1-14
After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way. Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
 
Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off.
 
When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.
 

CAST NOTES

Jesus was alive. But not always with them. He came and went for those forty days between his resurrection and his ascension. Sometimes he taught them the Scriptures, even ate with them (Acts 1: 3-4). Other times he was gone. They weren’t always sure what to do in between. They had gone to Galilee for a while, as the angel had commanded (Matt. 28: 7). In this episode, a restless Peter decided to do what he knew how to do, what he had done before Jesus called him: fish on the Sea of Galilee (aka the Sea of Tiberias).  
 
It was a night much like the one recorded in Luke 5. They had caught nothing. At dawn, they were near the shore and saw an early riser on shore with a charcoal fire. Déjà vu washed through them as he ordered them to cast the net again. As it filled miraculously with fish, John knew. It was Jesus! Great-hearted, impetuous Peter couldn’t wait for the boat to get there, so he leapt into the sea and swam for Jesus.  
 
There’s a great tenderness in the scene that follows. Breakfast on the beach with Jesus. Ordinary fellowship over a basic meal. Extraordinary spiritual communion with the risen Lord. Loaves and fish, so like the feast in the desert that fed five thousand. Broken bread and knowing Jesus, so like the supper at Emmaus. Word and sacrament. Learning and communing. Jesus alive giving them himself.
 
This is a snapshot of the ordinary Christian life. Week by week, gathered worship over Scripture and the Supper. Day by day, time with Jesus as we read his Word by the illumination of the Holy Spirit and pray to him by the prompting of his Spirit within. Speaking to him of ordinary concerns. Being lifted out of our little story into his big story so that our day to day becomes shot through with greater possibility and deeper meaning. The encounters that inform us over a lifetime.
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

Imagine this scene of breakfast on the beach with Jesus as you pray (or sing!) the words to this classic hymn by Thomas Chisholm: 
 
Great is thy faithfulness!
Great is thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed thy hand hath provided—
Great is thy faithfulness, 
Lord unto me!
 
Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thy own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!
 
Great is thy faithfulness!
Great is thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed thy hand hath provided—
Great is thy faithfulness, 
Lord unto me!
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).

 

Lent - Day 39

Day 39  Wednesday

THOMAS

 

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

John 20: 24-30
Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” 
 
Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
 

CAST NOTES

We can be thankful for Thomas’ doubts. For he is our man on the scene. Thomas represents all of us who were not there when the risen Jesus appeared. He speaks for us when he voices his concern that these kinds of things just don’t happen. For all of us who feel we missed the one class when the keys to understanding were passed out, Thomas is our man. Others may have been gifted with easy faith, but we have always struggled. We want to know with certainty and there seems little to be had. Go on Thomas, and make your demands for all of us!
 
Curiously, the account does not tell us whether Thomas actually touched Jesus or not. Rather, right after Jesus’ offer, we hear Thomas declare, “My Lord and my God!” (vs. 28). Perhaps he did touch Jesus, or perhaps none of that made any difference. Jesus had come to him in risen glory and offered himself. He exhorted Thomas to put away his doubt and start believing. That was enough for Thomas. Interestingly, the biggest doubter, the last holdout, ended up being the one who made the strongest declaration of who Jesus is in all the Gospels! “My Lord and my God!” This skeptic became the boldest confessor.
 
We all need to turn a sharp eye on the doubts we have. Too often we can let our struggles with unanswerable questions provide cover for us so that we do not have to deal with the Christ who comes and calls us to himself. So we each have to ask, “Would I throw my doubts up even if they were all answered? Or am I ready and waiting for Christ to make himself known to me? Am I anxious to join doubting Thomas as the boldest believer and cry out to Jesus, “My Lord and my God!”
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

Oh Jesus, my Lord and my God,
Forgive my doubts.
All I ever wanted was for you to be alive.
They said you were,
But I missed it. As usual.
I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Why didn’t you wait til I was there?
I could not release my grief to a dream.
I could not revive hope if you were a fantasy.
How awful that week of waiting was.
They rejoiced; I sulked.
Then there you were!
Inviting me to touch you.
True is the Psalm: 
In your presence is fullness of joy,
In your right hand are pleasures forevermore. 
I did not need to touch after all.
All I ever wanted was not enough.
But you overflowed every expectation.
It was you, alive, everlasting, real.
Oh Jesus, my Lord and my God!
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).


ENCORE

In Thomas, we have a guy who is a big realist, and a big doubter. He demands to verify what the other witnesses saw. And once he did, he gave himself to the truth: Jesus is risen!
 
The mystical reality of faith in Jesus is that the once and for all event of Jesus’ days among us, of his cross and resurrection, can cross time and come into our immediate experience. Time and space are no obstacles.  The witnesses have passed the story from one generation to the next.  Thomas saw, and he told. Others believed and received the truth of the resurrection in their very bones. The Spirit came within them and brought about a sense of Christ’s presence they had never had before. He brought power for changed lives. He brought forgiveness and peace. He brought power to tell others. And they experienced the truth. And they told others, and they told others, and now these words are being passed to you. Jesus is risen! (Gerrit Dawson, April 28, 2019 sermon).
 
 

 

Lent - Day 38

Day 38  Tuesday

CLEOPAS

 

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

Luke 24: 13-35
That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.
 
So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.
 

CAST NOTES

This is the only mention of Cleopas in the Bible. We do not know if he had been following Jesus for a while or if he had just been drawn to him during the events of Passion Week. Either way, Cleopas was both sad and baffled. Like we do after momentous happenings, these men were going over and over what had happened. Jesus played dumb! Just as he did with Mary, in the after-mirth of his return to life, he seemed to enjoy teasing out the revelation of his rising.  
 
For the rest of their walk to Emmaus, Jesus explained how the Scriptures pointed to these exact events that happened to the Christ. Their hearts burned with eagerness and anticipation. They urged Jesus to stay with them in the village. Next, Luke tells the story in a way that we cannot miss the connection with the Lord’s Supper. Jesus took bread, blessed God, broke bread and gave it to them. In this second ever enactment of the sacrament, their eyes were opened. They knew this man was their Lord Jesus.
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

The famous French mathematician Blaise Pascal longed for a deeper connection to Christ, something that would bring Jesus from “head” knowledge to “heart” experience. One evening, it happened. He wrote down this experience and kept the paper in his vest pocket where it was found after his death. I invite you to make it your prayer today for a heartfelt realization that Jesus is risen and real.
 
The year of grace 1654,
Monday, 23 November . . . 
From about half-past-ten in the evening until half past midnight
FIRE
‘God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob,’
Not of philosophers and scholars,
Certainty, certainty, heartfelt, joy, peace.
God of Jesus Christ.
God of Jesus Christ.
“My God and your God.”
“Thy God shall be my God.”
The world forgotten, and everything except God.
He can only be found by the ways taught in the Gospels.
Greatness of the human soul.
“O righteous Father the world had not known thee, 
But I have known thee.’
Joy, joy, joy, tears of joy. 
I have cut myself off from him.
“They have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters.”
My God wilt thou forsake me?
Let me be not cut off from him forever!
“And this is life eternal, that they may know thee,
The only true God and Jesus Christ whom thou has sent.”
Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ.
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).

 

How to Get Ready for Virtual Communion

Gerrit explains how to prepare for participating in Thursday’s 7 pm Service of Shadows. Four candles, a piece of bread and a cup of wine or juice, and you’re set to interact with the passion of Jesus and connect to him, together with our whole church, through the Lord’s Supper.

 

Links to watch the Service of Shadows are below. The video will be available at 7 pm Thursday, April 9.

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Lent - Day 37

Day 37  Monday

MARY MAGDALENE
 

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

John 20: 1a, 11-18
Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb…
 
Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus.  Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him, “Rabonni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
 
Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.
 

CAST NOTES

Hers is the most poignant of all the resurrection stories. John focusses intently and personally on Mary Magdalene. She had come to the tomb to complete the burial anointing of the body of Jesus. She wanted the chance to hold him one more time. After the horror of Friday, she wanted to see him at peace now.  
 
And so the sight which greeted her was all the more bewildering. The body was gone. Oh, was it not enough to mock him, and then beat him, and finally kill him? Now they had stolen his body as well. Jesus was not allowed to be at rest, and Mary was not allowed the certainty of her grief. This tragedy never ended. They were still doing things to him.
 
Then a strange man inside the cave asked, “Woman, why are you weeping?”  She says she just wants to see him. The body, the body would be enough for her, if only they had not taken it.  
 
Then, John tells us, Mary turned around and saw Jesus. She did not recognize him. Oh just tell me where he is and I will go to him!
 
And then came the turning of the tears. Jesus spoke to her one word, “Mary.”
 
“Rabboni! My teacher!” She fell at his feet and held on to him hard. He was alive. How could it be? His voice still sounded in her mind, the voice like no other. “Mary.” She knew. Beyond hope. Beyond belief. And the rains fell again, though now she was weeping for joy. The turning of the tears.
 
We experience the wonder of resurrection when we hear Jesus call our name. It is the great mystery of Christian experience that this unique event in history can become personally accessible to us when we place our full trust in Jesus and open our hearts to him, asking him to call us by name to himself. 
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

I never thought I would hear your voice again.
The sounds of your agony lingered from Friday.
Barely sounding like the man I had known, 
Your cracked voice cried out your agony and faith.
And then with a great cry, you were silent.
There would be no more.
No more stories, no more laughter, no more prayers.
How I yearned to comfort you!
I wanted to climb up that cross and touch your cheek,
Put my face by yours and tell you it would be all right.
Even after as we took you down I wanted to hold you,
I wanted a moment.
But sunset was coming and we had to get you to Joseph’s tomb.
All Sabbath I waited like a caged lioness,
Waiting for first light of the new week.
I wanted that moment. Even in a burial cave.
To smooth your hair, wipe your brow, 
Wrap you tight against the cold of death.
When you weren’t there, I thought I would come undone.
But you! Oh you, you were playing with me!
All risen, you let me wait to see until you called my name.
I’m not angry. Go ahead and tease.
Just say my name! 
I follow when you call. I worship where you are.
I dance where you walk alive. 
My Rabboni. My Jesus again. 
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).

 

Lent - Day 36

 

MEETING THE RISEN JESUS

Week Six

 
Fritz von Uhde. Woman, Why Weepest Thou? 1892.
 
Beyond hope and any expectation, Passion Week ended in triumph. The great reversal occurred when the verdict of “guilty” upon Jesus got reversed by the only true Sovereign Judge. In raising Jesus, the Father vindicated the Son. He answered Pilate’s declaration in presenting a battered and defeated Jesus. Now as the stone popped off the tomb, the Father declared to the world,  “Behold the man!” Jesus emerged rippling with everlasting life in a restored, renewed and eternally resurrected body.
 
Jesus began to reclaim his disheartened disciples. We see him act almost playfully as he takes his time revealing himself to Mary in the garden and the disciples along the road to Emmaus. 
 
Poignantly, he shows himself to Thomas who had missed his first appearance. And tenderly he restores Peter from a threefold denial through an opportunity to declare his love three times, and receive his mission, the mission of the church in triplicate.
 
Artist Fritz von Uhde tenderly depicts Jesus reaching to Mary as he calls her name, turning her dismay to joy. 
 

Day 36 Sunday

THE MARYS
 

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

Matthew 28: 1-10
Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.” So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”
 

CAST NOTES

Mary was a popular name in New Testament times! Mary, Jesus’ mother, and Mary of Bethany who anointed Jesus were not one of the Marys named in this account. These were Mary Magdalene, from whom Jesus had cast out seven demons, and Mary the mother of James, Joseph and Salome, about whom we know little.
 
They had come early on the first day of the week to complete the burial process interrupted by the Sabbath that began Friday evening. They expected to tend the dead. Instead they found the stone rolled back, the guards paralyzed with awe, angels proclaiming resurrection and then Jesus himself alive!
 
How can we describe their experience? Master storyteller J.R.R. Tolkien coined the term eucatastrophe for this sudden reversal where something horrible becomes wonderful beyond hope. It’s a “good” catastrophe which changes everything. Tolkien wrote in a letter to his son that the eucatastrophe in a story: 
 
. . . pierces you with a joy that brings tears . . . it produces its peculiar effect because it is a sudden glimpse of Truth, your whole nature . . . feels a sudden relief as if a major limb out of joint had suddenly snapped back. It perceives . . . that this is indeed how things really do work in the Great World for which our souls were made . . . the Resurrection was the greatest eucatastrophe possible . . . and produces that essential emotion: Christian joy which produces tears because it is qualitatively so like sorrow, because it comes from those places where Joy and Sorrow are at one, reconciled, as selfishness and altruism are lost in love.
 
We have glimpses of this wonderful, piercing resurrection joy. When you thought you were ruined and a solution came through at the last moment. When you knew you were going to die, then didn’t. When you thought a loved one was lost, for good, but then she came home. When you thought the relationship was broken forever and then you reconciled. But all of these are caught up, raised higher in the great, glorious reversal that the Marys were first to witness. they mocked Jesus breaks my heart. And all the more when I imagine my own participation. 
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER (11th C. LATIN PRAYER)

Come Christian, bring your sacrifice 
Of praise to Jesus Christ, 
Our conquering victim and 
Our Easter king. 
Jesus, the sinless lamb, 
Has saved the sinful flock and 
Reconciled us to the Father. 
 
Death and life have wrestled
In a wondrous fight,
The leader of the living
Fell to the powers of night
Dead, yet he reigns in power
His strange victory to share.  
 
Speak, Mary, friend of Christ,
What did you see on sorrow’s road?
Tell us your story.
 
“I saw the tomb of the living Christ.
I saw his resurrection glory.
I saw the witnessing angels.
I saw the head-cloth and the shroud.
Christ my hope has risen,
And goes before his own to Galilee.”
Trust Mary, believers, for only she has truth to tell,
Unlike the falsifying crowd of rumour-makers and deceivers.
 
We know that Christ is truly risen,
Defeating death and hell’s dark thrall.
So conquering king, have mercy on us all, Alleluia.
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).

 

 

Lent - Day 35

Day 35  Saturday

JOSEPH OF ARIMATHEA
 

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

Luke 23: 50-56
Now there was a man named Joseph, from the Jewish town of Arimathea. He was a member of the council, a good and righteous man, who had not consented to their decision and action; and he was looking for the kingdom of God. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then he took it down and wrapped it in a linen shroud and laid him in a tomb cut in stone, where no one had ever yet been laid. It was the day of Preparation, and the Sabbath was beginning. The women who had come with him from Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how his body was laid. Then they returned and prepared spices and ointments.
 
On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment.
 
John 19: 38-42
After these things Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took away his body. Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.
 

CAST NOTES

Joseph does not appear until the very end of the gospels. He was an incognito disciple of Jesus. He had a place on the ruling Sanhedrin council, so for political reasons he had kept his loyalty hidden. He only makes his devotion to Jesus known after it is too late! The council had condemned Jesus; Jesus had been executed. Standing for him after the fact made no sense. Jesus needed supporters at his trial, not after. Jesus was gone, and nothing was to be gained by showing open belief. Joseph was committing political and social suicide, and so was his friend Nicodemus.
 
So why did he use, and risk, his position to approach Pilate? Why did he expose himself as a follower of Jesus as he helped take the body down? Why did he bring scandal on his family by placing the body of a condemned criminal in his own tomb? Why did he go to the expense when it was too late for the cause of Jesus?
 
Only love could have made him do it. The grief of deep love led him to cast caution to the wind. Passion made precious an otherwise useless gesture of loyalty. Without Jesus in the world, Joseph no longer cared what happened to him. All he cared about was honoring Jesus in his burial.  
 
We have known this impulse: when we spent extravagantly on a funeral; when, albeit too late, we stood up for a friend who had been unjustly dismissed; when we remodeled a home just because our departed spouse would have loved it. 
 
In the end, of course, Joseph provided a unique, known tomb for Jesus rather than the dung heap or an unmarked pauper’s grave. That meant when Jesus rose, there was a precise empty tomb to show the world. And Joseph’s love was not wasted.
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

Too late to speak.
Too late to stop them. 
Lord, I tried to work quietly behind the scenes.
But I was only protecting myself.
For what?
Without you, nothing I have matters.
This world is dead to me.
These positions a joke.
I know I could not save you anyway,
There were too many of them,
But I ache to have tried harder.
No more hiding!
I will get you off that cross.
Gently, with dignity that befits a king.
I will save your body from the dogs and the gawkers.
You shall have my burial place.
I will tend your tattered form
With all my love and care,
With all the power at my disposal.
Too late, I know, to save you
But not too late to let them know
I am yours, and I will love you forever.
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).

ENCORE

     These pliers indicate the horror of the task Joseph of Arimathea undertook. We read so quickly that he took down Jesus’ body from the cross. But crucified victims were affixed to the wood. Jesus had been spiked in the hands and feet. These thick, Roman nails had to be pried from the wood so the body could be removed. Amidst wracking grief, Joseph and any who helped him would have had to exercise brute strength simultaneously with tender care. They did not want to tear Jesus any further. This process was not immediate. It was awkward, public and intense. As you look at this picture, seeing Jesus resting in the invisible arms of his Father, note how Cigoli brings us back to the real-world labor of Joseph’s love for Jesus. He had to remove the spikes to care for his Savior in burial.
 
 

Lent - Day 34

Day 34  Friday

THE CENTURION AT THE CROSS
 

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

Luke 23: 47-49
Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!” And all the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts. And all his acquaintances and the women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance watching these things.
 
Mark 15: 37-39
And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”
 

CAST NOTES

Centurions were officers in the Roman army that occupied first century Israel. The name comes from the Latin for one hundred (e.g., a century), indicating they might have 100 men under their charge. Centurions fare well in the New Testament. Jesus praised the faith of a centurion who trusted that Christ could heal his servant with but a word (Luke 7: 1-10). In Acts, we read of Cornelius, a centurion known to be “a devout man who feared God with all his household” (Acts 10: 2). He received a vision from God that Peter would come to him. And so he readily accepted the gospel, being baptized as one of the first Gentile believers.
 
The centurion at the cross, despite his grim job of guarding people being crucified, seems to have been sensitive to the uniqueness of Jesus. Perhaps because he had seen a lot of guilty people die, he knew how strikingly different Jesus was. Confidently entrusting himself to his heavenly Father meant that Jesus did not internalize guilt for crimes. His equanimity revealed his innocence. The way he called upon God as his Father in his agony convicted this centurion that Jesus was indeed the unique Son of God.
 
Rome and Jerusalem may have condemned Jesus, but the centurion read the signs and saw the deeper reality.
 
So, too, the way we suffer reveals the most about our character. Agony tests our faith. When it proves real, it is pain that authenticates the connection we truly have with our God.  
 
We think of the inspiration we get from those who fight cancer with trust that, win or lose, they remain “in his grip.”  
 
Believers grieve at graveside, but they do not despair. The peace that passes understanding rises through those joined to Jesus in a way that can’t be faked.
 
People get fired, left, swindled, robbed, flooded. The mature Christian in those moments, has a heart that trusts revealed for the unbelieving world to see and marvel over.  
 
So now, while we can, for the sake of the watching world, we are called to cultivate a deep relationship with Christ through prayer, the Word and sacraments to that what is exposed in us is the real deal. 
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

Surely this man was innocent!
I saw you Lord.  
Speak forgiveness to your enemies.
Give John and Mary to each other.
Pass hope to the thief.
I heard you Lord, cry out to a God you thought had forsaken you,
And trust him anyway.
 
I saw you in agony not curse your God nor your fate
As do so many.
You entrusted yourself to a faithful Creator. 
You died as you lived, following a plan
You knew had been written for you.
 
I heard the ripping of the Temple curtain 
All the way out on Golgotha.
Barriers coming down.
God and man meeting as one again.
Because you, Jesus of Nazareth,
Are the Holy One.
Surely this man is the Son of God! 
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).

 

ENCORE

Follow the story of Cornelius the centurion who became one of the first Gentile believers. As you read, consider what is it that makes a person of a different religion and ethnicity open to hearing the story of Jesus:
 
At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God. About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God come in and say to him, “Cornelius.” And he stared at him in terror and said, “What is it, Lord?” And he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. And now send men to Joppa and bring one Simon who is called Peter. He is lodging with one Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea.” When the angel who spoke to him had departed, he called two of his servants and a devout soldier from among those who attended him, and having related everything to them, he sent them to Joppa.
 
The next day Peter rose and went away with them, and some of the brothers from Joppa accompanied him. And on the following day they entered Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 
 
Cornelius opened himself to the strange possibility that a Jewish man could bring him news of the world’s savior, and even before Peter had finished speaking, the Holy Spirit filled Cornelius and he believed.
 

Lent - Day 33

Day 33  Thursday

JESUS DIES
 

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

Matthew 27: 45-50
Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And some of the bystanders, hearing it, said, “This man is calling Elijah.” And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink. But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.
 
Luke 23: 44-46
It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last.
 
John 19: 28-30
After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
 

CAST NOTES

The protagonist of Passion Week reaches the worst point. The hero in a life and death struggle is fastened inextricably to death. This play appears to be a tragedy.
 
Today’s four sayings from Jesus on the cross express his excruciating suffering and his final hope.
 
I thirst. Of all the bodily alarms going off in his dying, thirst rose to insist most. In the parable Jesus told of the rich man in Hades, he yearned for but a drop of water to assuage his agony (Luke 16: 24). Now he had entered the full horror of Psalm 22, “my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.”
 
My God, why have you forsaken me? The physical dissolution was not the worst. Crucified Jesus was bearing the sin of the world. He felt no trace of his Father. He quoted from Psalm 22: 1 in what has come to be known as the cry of dereliction. Abandonment. Ruin. Utter loneliness. 
 
Father, into your hands I commit my spirit. Yet, even feeling no trace of his Father, Jesus willed to trust him. He again quoted a Scripture, this time Psalm 31: 5. The second half of that verse adds, “You have redeemed me, O LORD, faithful God.” Jesus showed faith in a faithful Father even when he felt abandoned. 
 
It is finished. In Greek it’s one word: tetelestai. It has been brought to full completion. John notes this as the fulfillment of Psalm 69: 21, “for my thirst they gave me sour wine to drink.” Scholars such as Brant Pitre have noted that this would have completed the fourth cup of Passover which Jesus earlier declined. It would have been the sign of the new Kingdom dawning. In his death was our beginning. In his completion of suffering was our full atonement. 
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

Lord Jesus, on the cross you prayed the script written for you a thousand years earlier. You evoked Psalm 22 to find words for your horror and hope in your hopelessness. So we pray them with you to fill in your story,
 
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me, 
From the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day but you do not answer,
And by night but I find no rest. . . .
All who see me mock me;
They make mouths at me; they wag their heads;
He trusts in the LORD, let him deliver him;
Let him rescue him, for he delights in him!
 
Yet you are he who took me from my mother’s womb . . . 
Be not far from me, for trouble is near,
And there is none to help.
 
I am poured out like water.
And all my bones are out of joint,
My heart is melted like wax . . . 
They have pierced my hands and feet—
I can count all my bones—
They stare and gloat over me;
They divide my garments among them,
And for my clothing they cast lots.
 
But you, O LORD, do not be far off!
Come quickly . . . Deliver my soul . . . Save me!
 
You have rescued me!
I will tell of your name to my brothers;
In the midst of the congregation, I will praise you.
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).

 

 

Lent - Day 32

Day 32  Wednesday

THE GOOD THIEF
 

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

Matthew 27: 38-40
Then two robbers were crucified with him, one on the right and one on the left. And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.”
 
Luke 23: 39-43
One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
 

CAST NOTES

One of the most beautiful conversations in the Gospels occurs on the cross. Jesus was crucified between two criminals who had been condemned for robbery. At first, in Matthew’s recounting, both men railed at Jesus. But then, according to Luke, one thief had a change of heart. Tradition calls him Dismas. He realized that he was being executed for actual crimes committed, but Jesus was innocent. He believed Jesus would come to reign over a kingdom, and he entreated Jesus to “remember” him on that day.
 
We may imagine that the thief had a traditional Hebraic view of death as portrayed in the psalms. What if that darkest lament, Psalm 88, was on the minds and hearts of both men on the cross? The psalmist writes as a man whose “life draws near to Sheol” (vs. 3). He feels already discarded to the pit. He has become a man who is:
 
Like those whom you remember no more,
for they are cut off from your hand (vs. 5).
 
One of the great fears of death was being cut off not only from life in the world but from God himself, as if we get expunged even from God’s thoughts. When the thief entreats Jesus to remember him, it is a plea to remain in existence, not to be left to utter darkness, for to be forgotten by God would mean being cut off from God’s presence. It amazes me to consider how deeply Jesus’ reply matches the mirror-like parallel of Psalm 88: 5. The thief asks to be remembered. Jesus answers, “You will be with me.” In other words, “You will not be cut off from God’s hand. I will enter the experience of that utter forsakenness so that you will not.” 
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

I hated you at first, like I hated myself and everything else. 
I cursed you for doing nothing to save yourself or us,
Though people had said you were a king with power.
But just the way you took our insults, even then,
Closed my bitter mouth.
I knew I deserved to die and never see God.
The abyss opened below me.
The land of shadow.
The land forgotten by the living,
The land without the light of God.
As I hung, I knew my type of people and how they died.
You were not one of us.
What if you were a king that would reign in heaven?
What if you would not be discarded but exalted?
Could you, would you save me from the Pit?
Lord, remember me!
From your agony, you gazed at me,
Weighed my sincerity, believed my need.
You promised that I would be with you.
In the land of the blessed. 
In the company of God and his saints.
In a kingdom that never ends. 
I was falling into the grave and you grabbed my hand
I was slipping into darkness when you shined a light.
I was tumbling into everlasting loneliness 
When you made me your own. 
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).



ENCORE

Jesus equated his suffering with that of Jonah (see Mt. 12: 38-40). And the thief on the cross, by the words of his request, indicated familiarity with the prayer of Jonah. Read the words Jonah prayed from under the depths, first from the perspective of the thief on the cross, then from Jesus’ perspective.
 
Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the belly of the fish, saying,
“I called out to the LORD, out of my distress,
    and he answered me;
out of the belly of Sheol I cried,
    and you heard my voice.
For you cast me into the deep,
    into the heart of the seas…
    all your waves and your billows passed over me.
Then I said, ‘I am driven away
    from your sight;
yet I shall again look upon your holy temple.’
The waters closed in over me to take my life;
    the deep surrounded me;
weeds were wrapped about my head
    at the roots of the mountains.
I went down to the land
    whose bars closed upon me forever;
yet you brought up my life from the pit,
    O LORD my God.
When my life was fainting away,
    I remembered the LORD,
and my prayer came to you,
    into your holy temple.
I with the voice of thanksgiving
    will sacrifice to you;
what I have vowed I will pay.
    Salvation belongs to the LORD!”

 

Lent - Day 31

Day 31  Tuesday

JESUS ON THE CROSS
 

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

Luke 23: 32-34
Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” 
 
John 19: 25-27
. . . but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.
 

CAST NOTES

Throughout the Gospels, Jesus always seemed to have such a complete sense of himself. He knew who he was. He knew his mission. He knew the plan of his Father and his role in it.  
 
Nevertheless, it stuns me to see how self-possessed Jesus was during his torture and crucifixion. Even a little pain makes me withdraw into myself. I fear. I doubt. I don’t care about others. But Jesus, with nails in his hands and feet, thorns crushing his head, his open back scraping the rough wood could still focus his mind. He could still notice others. As helpless as a man could be, Jesus could still bless and redeem others.
 
In the first of his seven sayings from the cross, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, because they know not what they do.” That has always seemed to me a generous assessment of us who crucified Christ! Would it have changed anything in my heart if I had known what I was doing? I fear I would reject him anyway. 
 
Yet Jesus, at precisely the time when we might expect him to despair of the humanity he came to save, recalled a deeper purpose. We were made for God. He is our greatest, indeed, our only good. And as C.S. Lewis said, “I believe . . . that the kernel of what [a person] was really seeking, even in his most depraved wishes, will be there, waiting for him in the ‘High Countries.’” Human beings want, require, crave God, even if awareness has been lost and God-hatred has ruled us. And Jesus came to answer that need. To literally “bleed out” the poison of sin in us to give us the new life of his Spirit by his forgiveness.
 
This love is not only grand in scope, but intimately specific. In a touching scene, Jesus in the agony of the cross nevertheless notices his mother Mary and his disciple John. He gives them to each other to care for each other after his departure. From the cross, he creates bonds, family, enduring care.
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

Lord Jesus, your prayer staggers me:
Father, forgive them.
I don’t know how to pray that 
When I am wounded, deceived, left, forgotten or overlooked.
Yet you have placed words on lips:
Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.
You are serious about my forgiving!
Lord Jesus, your thoughtfulness staggers me:
John, behold your mother.
Mary, behold your son. 
I live so compartmentalized,
Isolated by busy-ness and technology.
Yet you have placed a rule in our hearts:
Love one another as I have loved you.
You are serious about my connecting!
 
Lord Jesus, forgive me.
Lord Jesus, give me to others.
Lord Jesus, lead me to forgive.
Lord Jesus, teach me to love.
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).



ENCORE

Jesus came to love us. He had a legitimate claim on us. He is our creator and he called us to himself. But we fled him. He could not force us and have us be free. On the cross he was suspended in agony by his love. Rejected by us, he nevertheless could not let us go. So he endured in love until it killed him.  
 
Those who love inevitably find that there are hours when we can go neither forward nor backward, but must wait helplessly for the other to determine our fate.  
 
From his position of hanging in the excruciating conflict between his love for us and our rejection of him, Jesus prayed, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23: 34). That Jesus prayed for our forgiveness does not surprise me. He came to give his life for us, to create a new and living way to God. But that second line worries me. We didn’t know what we were doing? Is the basis for our forgiveness the fact that we were ignorant of who we put to death?  
 
I believe that even knowing what we did, we would have done it anyway. To me, we knew enough. We human beings knew that here was the light of the world and we wanted to be left alone in the darkness. We wanted to snuff out that light. And Jesus surely knew that. Perhaps he means that we neither know the true depth of our sin nor the true extent of God’s love. However much we might know of who Christ is, our capacity to reject him in sin would be there. But never will we fully understand the depth of his love for us. Knowing the lostness in us more than we will ever grasp, still God did not spare his own Son but freely gave him up for us. There is in Christ on the cross revealed a love of God beyond measurement of height and depth (Gerrit Dawson, I Am With You Always, 2000, pp. 120-123).
 
 

Lent - Day 30

Day 30  Monday

SIMON OF CYRENE

 

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

Mark 15: 21-22
And they compelled a passerby, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry his cross. And they brought him to the place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull).
 
Romans 16: 13
Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; also his mother, whose has been a mother to me as well.
 
Acts 11: 20-21 
. . . men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord. 
 

CAST NOTES

Simon was in town for the Passover festival. He had journeyed from north Africa, from a region in today’s Libya. So we know he was devout in his belief in the LORD. Simon just happened to be in the streets where the soldiers led Jesus carrying his cross. Reflecting on this passage through the centuries, Christians have always thought that Simon was needed because Jesus stumbled and fell, weak from his horrific flogging. 
 
Imagine Simon’s shock when the Roman guard suddenly picked him from the crowd. I would have feared getting crucified myself!  
 
We wonder how carrying Christ’s cross affected Simon later. Surely he paid close attention to the news about Jesus and to the reports of his resurrection. Perhaps he even met the risen Jesus.  
 
We believe Simon became a fruitful disciple from two statements. First, Mark describes him as “the father of Rufus and Alexander.” That information would only be significant to Mark’s readers if Rufus and Alexander were known believers! Simon created a heritage of faith in Jesus. Second, at the end of Romans, Paul sends greetings to Rufus. If this is the same Rufus, Paul has confirmed Simon’s legacy. 
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

Why did you let them pick me?
I was from North Africa.
I didn’t fit the profile!
O Lord, I was so terrified.
This was not my struggle.
But I feared it would be the end of me?
When we got to Golgotha,
Would they link me with you?
 
I looked at you then, on your knees,
Collapsed under the weight of the cross.
Pity awoke first. 
“I’ve got this,” I said,
And you looked at me, 
Through blood and tears,
With love that captured my heart.
 
The mob screamed and spat.
As if they wanted you dead before you arrived.
I felt the fury and knew now
I had been linked with you.
 
Their screams and stones bowed me up.
Fear turned to pride. 
I was linked with you,
And I would get you to that Skull hill.
 
They would be guilty of your full, gruesome death. 
You would finish your purpose.
I would carry you as well as the cross if needed.
Why did you pick me?
I didn’t fit the profile of
One worthy for this honor.
But I loved you then, more than I thought possible.
And I love you now.
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).

 

Lent - Day 29

MEETING JESUS AT THE CROSS

Week 5

 
 
 
 
Ludovico Cigoli. The Deposition from the Cross. c. 1600. 
 
 
The dark worst point of Passion Week was the six hours of crucifixion. Nature corroborated the horror as the sky went dark and the earth shook.
 
Jesus was nailed to the rough beams in his hands and feet. The word “excruciating” was invented to express the agony of being hung on a cross to die.
 
Yet even in these hours, redeeming encounters occurred. Simon of Cyrene became a disciple after he carried the cross for Jesus through the streets of Jerusalem to Golgotha, the place of the skull. One thief crucified next to Jesus came to faith as he pleaded to be remembered and received assurances from Jesus that he would be with him always. And Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the council who believed in Jesus, came out of hiding to arrange an honorable burial for Jesus.
 
Around 1600, Ludovico Cigoli captured the great and grievous effort it was to take a body from a cross. The spikes had to be removed from the wood and the flesh. The body had to be lowered in a winding sheet, wrapped, then carried off.
 
Jesus’ remaining loyal followers carefully tended him, pouring their love into what, to all eyes, seemed a lost cause. We note by their head-wear the presence of both Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, participating in this work far beneath their station. Here faith shone brightest, when it seemed least victorious.
 

Day 29  Sunday

SOLDIERS
 

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

Matthew 27: 27-31
Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole battalion before him. And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him.
 
Luke 23: 36-37
The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!”
 

CAST NOTES

Who knows why they treated Jesus this way. He clearly wasn’t a danger to them. Perhaps the soldiers seethed with anger at being so far away from home. Perhaps they hated this population of Jews who, though obedient, always seemed unbowed in spirit. Perhaps they liked having a victim they were free to bully.
 
We know the delicious thrill of having a scapegoat. Maybe it was the girl in middle school with the smelly hair. Or the boy in high school who never had all his gear for gym. Or the guy with acne we called Pizza Face. As awkward as we felt, at least we weren’t like them.
 
We know the power of displaced anger. When we take out frustration at work on our spouse. When we unload in fury at the children over a simple mistake. When we jerk the dog’s collar for pulling. There’s a rage we want to release on someone who can’t fight back.
 
And of course, there’s the indignation we feel at the presence of holiness. Anger ignites in us when someone won’t participate in the gossip or the slightly shady deal or the drugs at the party.  
 
The soldiers channeled the rage of the sinner against God that is deep inside all of us. They let out the bully I hide, the mocker I disguise and the crusher I mask.  
 
And Jesus took it all. He would not save himself. Because he was saving us. The story of how they mocked Jesus breaks my heart. And all the more when I imagine my own participation. 
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

Oh Lord Jesus, 
I scarcely dare admit my connection to this episode.
Paul called it being a God-hater.
You said what I do to the least of these I do to you.
I have called your faithful children “goody-goodies.”
I have gleefully demonized “those people” for whom you died. 
I have mocked “your glory” as a poor reason for suffering.
I have questioned angrily how you wield your sovereignty.
I have wanted to spew my venom on someone else,
Get another to carry the negative energy for me,
Transfer the shame, the guilt and the pain underneath.
You take it all. 
You answer the soldiers with acceptance.
You reply to the howls of our rage with the quiet of bread broken in an upper room.
You ask for me to pour all the poison into your cup
So that you can give me the wine of life.
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).

 

ENCORE

In his book, Unaplogetic, Francis Spufford describes the way the crowd piled on their hatred as Jesus made his way to the cross. The soldiers were just representative of the frustration, the projection, the venom in every heart:
 
He’s stumbling along under the weight of his own instrument of execution, a great big wooden thing he can hardly lift, with an escort of the empire’s soldiers . . . the bystanders don’t see their hopes parading by. They see their disappointment, they see their frustration. They see everything in themselves that is too weak or too afraid to confront the strapping paratroopers; and much though they hate the soldiers, they hate him more, for his pathetic slide into victimhood. Word of his loose living, his impiety, his pleasure in bad company goes round in whispers. And just look at him. There’s something disgusting about him, don’t you think? Something that makes you squirm inside. Something . . . furtive. He’s so pale and sickly-looking, with that dried blood round his mouth. He looks like a pedophile being led away by the police. He looks like something from under a rock; as if he doesn’t deserve the daylight. He’s a blot on the new day. . . . Yeshua is a joke. He’s less a messiah, more a patch of something nasty on the pavement (Francis Spufford, Unapologetic, 2013, pp. 140-141).
 
Jesus became the object of our pent-up rage at the way life is, our own helplessness to change and our own disgust that we are no better. The soldiers merely expressed more brutally the bruising will in every human heart.

 

Lent - Day 28

Day 28  Saturday

MALCHUS, BARABBAS AND JOHN MARK

 

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

Today we meet three characters from Passion Week about which we know almost nothing. Yet each one had an encounter with Jesus. Holy imagination will lead us to ponder their stories.
 

MALCHUS

 
John 18: 10-11
Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.) So Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?”
 
 
Luke 22: 49-51
And when those who were around him saw what would follow, they said, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” And one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him.
 

CAST NOTES FOR MALCHUS

The Gospels describe Malchus as the servant of the high priest. More literally he was a bond slave. His life was not his own. He served as a ready and ever-available assistant to Caiaphas, even late on a Passover night. He was related to another servant who would shortly challenge Peter (John 18: 26). Malchus’ job was to listen for orders and then fulfill them. He had come with the band of soldiers to get the man his master wanted. He was not allowed to be armed. He never expected a sword to be drawn against him. Imagine his emotions as a wild Peter struck out: surprise, fear, searing pain, panic that he might die as blood spattered everywhere. The roar in his head that replaced his hearing. Then the man his master called the chief of sinners reached toward him. Maybe Malchus flinched expecting more pain. But the hand soothed. The blood stopped spurting; the throb ceased; the terror went away. Calm, warmth, peace, hearing as clear as he’d ever known. This blasphemer, such a threat, suddenly seemed to be the giver of life. Could Caiaphas be wrong?
 

BARABBAS

Mark 15: 6-13
Now at the feast [Pilate] used to release for them one prison for whom they had asked. And among the rebels in prison, who had committed murder, there was a man called Barabbas. And the crowd came up and began to ask Pilate to do as he usually did for them. And he answered them, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” For he perceived that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered him up. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release for them Barabbas instead. And Pilate again said to them, “Then what shall I do with the man you call the King of the Jews?” And they cried out, “Crucify him.”
 

CAST NOTES FOR BARABBAS

 
Barabbas was a rebel. One of the zealots who sought to overthrow Rome’s rule by violence, whether acts of guerilla terror or outright rebellion. He had been jailed for murder. An angry, rough man, a true enemy of the state. Ironically, his name means “son of the father.” He knew he deserved death for the deaths he had dealt, and he was proud of it. Yet Pilate released him while Jesus, the true Son of the Father in heaven, sinless and full of love, was sentenced to death. Barabbas experienced literally the great exchange of Jesus’ life for his.
 
What did Barabbas feel when he was released? Did he know of Jesus? Did he experience survivor guilt? Barabbas reminds me of the famous Dickens chapter, “Recalled to life.” I hope he became a disciple!
 

CAST NOTES FOR MARK

 
Throughout Christian history, readers of the Gospel have conjectured that this young man was Mark himself. This curious incident is not relayed in the other three Gospels. We know from Acts 12: 12 that “John, whose other name was Mark,” was from Jerusalem and joined Paul on his first missionary journey. I like to think that Mark the Gospel writer was an eyewitness to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, and that he humbly included this brief account of his own wilting and fleeing at the seizing of Jesus. His shame is clearly illustrated by the picture of being so afraid that he was willing to run naked through the streets. The incident motivated him through years of travels and mission for Jesus’ sake.
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

Malchus: I believed whatever my master told me. I was proud to serve a man so high, so learned and seemingly so just. But I have been bound to the wrong man. I cannot leave his service. But my heart is yours. You had the power to destroy us all. But instead you healed me and then let them have you. I have seen love now, and can never go back. 
 
Barabbas: Jesus, they traded you for me. You didn’t have to go to condemnation. I could see this was your decision. I thought you were a fool. That I would never look back. But you have haunted me. Somehow claimed me. I cannot get away from you. You bought my life with yours. How now shall I live?
 
Mark: Ah, Lord Jesus, running naked in the streets was the least of the sins of my youth! Yet the shame of fleeing from your need still burns me! Would I be any different today?  
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).

 

 

Lent - Day 27

Day 27  Friday

PILATE, PART 2

 

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

John 19: 1-16
Then Pilate took Jesus and flogged him. And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe. They came up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and struck him with their hands. Pilate went out again and said to them, “See, I am bringing him out to you that you may know that I find no guilt in him.” So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Behold the man!” When the chief priests and the officers saw him, they cried out, “Crucify him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no guilt in him.” The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God.” When Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid. He entered his headquarters again and said to Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.”
 
From then on Pilate sought to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.” So when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Stone Pavement, and in Aramaic Gabbatha. Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover. It was about the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, “Behold your King!” They cried out, “Away with him, away with him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” So he delivered him over to them to be crucified. 
 

CAST NOTES

What did Pilate hope to gain by flogging Jesus?
 
Pilate shows the bloody Jesus to the crowd with these words, “Behold the man!”
 
Consider how this declaration is meant to reduce Jesus to a beaten man. Consider how often the “opposition behind the opposition” wants to deface the image of God in humanity. We are constantly shown images of humanity helpless before the impulses of our lusts, our angers, our greed and our tricks. We see the good portrayed as fools, the righteous depicted as tyrants and the kind trampled. How often it is communicated that resistance to the way things are is futile. We should just take it and shut up. 
 
Jesus well could have felt defeated in the face of acute suffering, the overwhelming power of Rome and the frenzy of the mob. But he remained centered, determined and at peace. Think what strength of faith it took to reply, with all visible evidence to the contrary, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.” 
 
Pilate, the man with the power, grew unhinged by Jesus’ calm and he gave into the demands of the crowd. Three times he declared that he found no guilt in Jesus. Can you see any way out for Pilate? Ultimately he lacked the strength to release him, becoming linked until the end of history with the execution of Jesus.  
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

 
These gods mean nothing to me now.
Jupiter, Mars, Artemis: all of them jokes.
The Emperor in his glory receiving adulation at the Colosseum:
A self-indulgent poser. He is no god.
But to whom shall I turn?
My officers have seen such death that they hold to no gods at all.
But I cannot believe there is nothing more.
No higher glory than man, man so easily beaten, deceived, mocked and defeated.
Is there only silence above? Emptiness within?
That King of the Jews had something.
A light. A peace. A trust.
Even beaten to a pulp he radiated beauty,
He seemed more a man then than I’ll ever be. 
Authority from above he claimed.
From above but flowing from within.
What is truth? I had mocked him.
But he was unfazed.
“My kingdom is not of this world.
 
I have come into the world to bear witness to the truth.
Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”
His voice rang with truth.
How I wish I could hear it again?
Would I hear the truth if I heard him?
Did I do the right thing?
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).

 

 

 

Lent - Day 26

Day 26  Thursday

PILATE, PART 1

 

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

Matthew 27: 11-26
Now Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus said, “You have said so.” But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he gave no answer. Then Pilate said to him, “Do you not hear how many things they testify against you?” But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed.
 
Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release for the crowd any one prisoner whom they wanted. And they had then a notorious prisoner called Barabbas. So when they had gathered, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” For he knew that it was out of envy that they had delivered him up. Besides, while he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much because of him today in a dream.” Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus. The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said, “Let him be crucified!” And he said, “Why? What evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!”
 
So when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.” And all the people answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!” Then he released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered him to be crucified.
 

CAST NOTES

Pontius Pilate held his position as Governor of Judea from AD 26 to 36. His job was to keep the peace. To pacify the occupied nation of the Jews under the enforced peace of the Roman Empire. Pilate represented the rule of Caesar, the Roman Emperor. Pilate represented the Powers-That-Be.  
 
Pilate is also a symbol of all the rulers in every place who insist that they make the rules. Pilate represents all the powers and people that tell us, “Reality is what I make it to be. It’s my world, and you’re just living in it.” From insurance companies to bureaucrats to school administrations to those who keep the social gates. Pilate is the way the world is. Jesus suffered under Pilate. That means Jesus came under the control of the powers that claimed to rule the world. 
 
But in this encounter, while Pilate holds all the military and political power, the rabbi from Nazareth seems astonishingly in control. Pilate asks Jesus if he is King of the Jews. Jesus’ enigmatic literal reply was, “You say.” Then he went silent before every other accusation.
This raises questions. How do authorities usually react to ambivalent replies? To answers that seem to imply impertinence? What amazes Pilate about Jesus declining to answer any charges? What parts of this passage give us the idea that Pilate is getting unnerved by Jesus? 
 
What does washing his hands symbolize for Pilate? Compare this scene with Lady Macbeth famously wringing her hands saying, “Out, out damned spot!” How does Pilate’s attempt to be done with responsibility a futile gesture?
 
The crowd roared at Pilate, “His blood be on us and on our children!” What chills you in that demand? What is the twist in the fulfillment of their request?
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER
 

Imagine Pilate speaking that night to his wife, who had urged him to have nothing to do with Jesus. Suppose she let him vent his doubts and fears.
 
Did I do the right thing? 
He was like no man I have ever seen.
Every man has fears.
But I could find none in him.
Whatever fears were his, he had already faced them.
He tried on the worst and accepted it—and it wasn’t me.
I held no threat to him after what he had been through. 
But I couldn’t figure out what that was.
I couldn’t find a way to take him back to fear.
For all my guards, I felt as if he could have walked out at any time, and no one could have stopped him.
But he didn’t. He showed no impulse to escape.
He spoke to me as if he were from another world.
He seemed to offer me a way of escape, a different world,
A different emperor. The true Sovereign.
But of course I couldn’t ask him. 
I couldn’t change allegiance, not now. 
He was like no man I had ever seen.
My helpless prisoner who was in total control of all things. 
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).

 

 

 

Lent - Day 25

Day 25  Wednesday

JUDAS, PART 3

 

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

Matthew 27: 3-10
Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priest and the elders, saying, “I have sinned against innocent blood.” They said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and went out and hanged himself. But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, “It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since it is blood money.” So they took counsel and bought with them the potter’s field as a burial place for strangers. Therefore, that field is has been called the Field of Blood to this day. Thus it was fulfilled what had been spoken by the prophet Jeremiah, saying, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him on whom a price had been set by some of the sons of Israel, and they gave them for a potter’s field, as the Lord directed me” [cf. Zec. 11:13].
 
Acts 1: 15-20
In those days Peter stood up among the brothers (the company of persons was in all about 120) and said, “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. For he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” (Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness, and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their own language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) For it is written in the book of Psalms, “May his camp become desolate, and let there be no one to dwell in it.” (Ps. 69: 25).
 

CAST NOTES

In a rush of loyalty Peter drew his sword to fight off Jesus’ arresters. Before the night was over, he hadn’t the courage to admit to a serving maid his faith in Jesus. The bombastic personality of Peter was on full display that final night. The Rock turned to mush. As someone once noted about the absurdity of Peter’s denying oath: he swore to God he didn’t know God!
 
John’s account takes us deeper into the devastating nature of this wilting. We recall that earlier in John 18, when the mob said they sought Jesus, he replied, “I am” and they fell to the ground for the power of his affirmation. Just a few verses later, Peter is asked if he is one of Jesus’ disciples. He replies “I am not.” Literally, the words are “Not, I am,” or ouk eimi. The contrast could not be starker. Jesus is pure I am: light, life, love, being. Peter, in denying Jesus, negates his very self! Who are you now Peter? NOT I am. Peter disowned Jesus trying to save his own skin. But to cut oneself off from Jesus is to cancel out one’s very life. It is to lose oneself.  
 
It is no wonder that another gospel tells us that after the rooster crowed, Peter “went out and wept bitterly” (Luke 22: 62). In stepping away from Jesus, Peter had stepped away from life itself.
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER
 

Simon Peter Video
 

Oh Lord, the words said that I can never get back!
The silence when I should have spoken for someone!
The moment for me to stand passed me by.
The hurt I caused; the pain I failed to prevent.
Fear ruled me. My choice for
Self-preservation. Control. Saving Face. Freedom.
I got none of those.
I am ashamed. I am enslaved to my fears.
The life drains out of me, and I am helpless to stop it.
Seizing “me” made me a shell of a person. 
Worse, I trained the life out of others.
I now weep bitter tears.
The rooster crows. Time is up.
I am too little too late. Again.
And I know I cannot too quickly resolve
The crisis, turn the story, claim the victory.
I am before you this day a full-fledged Peter at dawn.
Look upon me and see the truth of who you called.
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).

 

ENCORE

To deny God is to negate oneself. I once heard a preacher say, “Think of the absurdity of Peter’s denial: Peter swore to God that he didn’t know God! He didn’t want to be where he was, with everything falling apart. He didn’t want even to exist anymore with Jesus being taken away and others accusing him menacingly. So he went to the place of non-sense. The “Not me” of his denial became the “Not I am” of losing himself in denying Jesus. Declaring “I don’t know him!” was equivalent to canceling his own life.
 
Raniero Cantalamessa describes the self-destroying nature of our denials of Christ:
 
“By refusing to glorify God, man himself becomes ‘deprived of the glory of God.’ Sin offends God, that is, it saddens him greatly, but only in so far as it brings death to man whom he loves; it wounds his love. . . .
 
Sin leads to death . . . the ‘state’ of death, that is precisely what has been called ‘mortal illness,’ a state of chronic death. In this state the creature desperately tends to return to being nothing but without succeeding and lives therefore as if in an eternal agony. . . . the creature is obliged by One stronger than himself to be what he does not consent to be, that is dependent on God, and his eternal torment is that he cannot get rid of either God or of himself. . . . He would wish to be left free to return to nothingness. . . . because he does not want to be what he is, dependent on God. . . . this is the way to pure desperation.” (Raniero Cantalamessa, Life in Christ, 1990, pp. 28-29).
 
Such as the bitter agony Peter experienced that night, and that we, if we resist the truth of Christ which we know, will experience all our lives before we turn back to him. 

 

Lent - Day 24

Day 24  Tuesday

PETER, PART 3

 

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

Matthew 26: 69-73
Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. And a servant girl came up to him and said, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.” But he denied it before them all, saying, “I do not know what you mean.” And when he went out to the entrance, another servant girl saw him, and she said to the bystanders, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” And again he denied it with an oath: “I do not know the man.” After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Certainly you too are one of them, for your accent betrays you.”
 
John 18: 15-18, 25-27
Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he entered with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, but Peter stood outside at the door. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to the servant girl who kept watch at the door, and brought Peter in. The servant girl at the door said to Peter, “You also are not one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.” Now the servants and officers had made a charcoal fire, because it was cold, and they were standing and warming themselves. Peter also was with them, standing and warming himself.
 
Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. So they said to him, “You also are not one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it and said, “I am not.” One of the servants of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?” Peter again denied it, and at once a rooster crowed.
 

CAST NOTES

In a rush of loyalty Peter drew his sword to fight off Jesus’ arresters. Before the night was over, he hadn’t the courage to admit to a serving maid his faith in Jesus. The bombastic personality of Peter was on full display that final night. The Rock turned to mush. As someone once noted about the absurdity of Peter’s denying oath: he swore to God he didn’t know God!
 
John’s account takes us deeper into the devastating nature of this wilting. We recall that earlier in John 18, when the mob said they sought Jesus, he replied, “I am” and they fell to the ground for the power of his affirmation. Just a few verses later, Peter is asked if he is one of Jesus’ disciples. He replies “I am not.” Literally, the words are “Not, I am,” or ouk eimi. The contrast could not be starker. Jesus is pure I am: light, life, love, being. Peter, in denying Jesus, negates his very self! Who are you now Peter? NOT I am. Peter disowned Jesus trying to save his own skin. But to cut oneself off from Jesus is to cancel out one’s very life. It is to lose oneself.  
 
It is no wonder that another gospel tells us that after the rooster crowed, Peter “went out and wept bitterly” (Luke 22: 62). In stepping away from Jesus, Peter had stepped away from life itself.
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER
 

Simon Peter Video
 

Oh Lord, the words said that I can never get back!
The silence when I should have spoken for someone!
The moment for me to stand passed me by.
The hurt I caused; the pain I failed to prevent.
Fear ruled me. My choice for
Self-preservation. Control. Saving Face. Freedom.
I got none of those.
I am ashamed. I am enslaved to my fears.
The life drains out of me, and I am helpless to stop it.
Seizing “me” made me a shell of a person. 
Worse, I trained the life out of others.
I now weep bitter tears.
The rooster crows. Time is up.
I am too little too late. Again.
And I know I cannot too quickly resolve
The crisis, turn the story, claim the victory.
I am before you this day a full-fledged Peter at dawn.
Look upon me and see the truth of who you called.
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).

 

ENCORE

To deny God is to negate oneself. I once heard a preacher say, “Think of the absurdity of Peter’s denial: Peter swore to God that he didn’t know God! He didn’t want to be where he was, with everything falling apart. He didn’t want even to exist anymore with Jesus being taken away and others accusing him menacingly. So he went to the place of non-sense. The “Not me” of his denial became the “Not I am” of losing himself in denying Jesus. Declaring “I don’t know him!” was equivalent to canceling his own life.
 
Raniero Cantalamessa describes the self-destroying nature of our denials of Christ:
 
“By refusing to glorify God, man himself becomes ‘deprived of the glory of God.’ Sin offends God, that is, it saddens him greatly, but only in so far as it brings death to man whom he loves; it wounds his love. . . .
 
Sin leads to death . . . the ‘state’ of death, that is precisely what has been called ‘mortal illness,’ a state of chronic death. In this state the creature desperately tends to return to being nothing but without succeeding and lives therefore as if in an eternal agony. . . . the creature is obliged by One stronger than himself to be what he does not consent to be, that is dependent on God, and his eternal torment is that he cannot get rid of either God or of himself. . . . He would wish to be left free to return to nothingness. . . . because he does not want to be what he is, dependent on God. . . . this is the way to pure desperation.” (Raniero Cantalamessa, Life in Christ, 1990, pp. 28-29).
 
Such as the bitter agony Peter experienced that night, and that we, if we resist the truth of Christ which we know, will experience all our lives before we turn back to him. 

 

Lent - Day 23

Day 23  Monday

CAIAPHAS

 

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

John 11: 47-53
The chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the Council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not only for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. So from that day on they made plans to put him to death.
 
Matthew 26: 57-68
Then those who had seized Jesus led him to Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders had gathered. And Peter was following him at a distance, as far as the courtyard of the high priest, and going inside he sat with the guards to see the end. Now the chief priests and the whole council were seeking false testimony against Jesus that they might put him to death, but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward. . . . And the high priest said to him, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Then the high priest tore his robes and said, “He has uttered blasphemy. What further witnesses do we need? You have now heard his blasphemy. What is your judgment?” They answered, “He deserves death.” Then they spit in his face and struck him. 
 

CAST NOTES

The Council, called the Sanhedrin, was comprised of 70 members. The chief priest elected for the year presided over the meetings.  
 
The first passage describes a Council meeting before Passion Week when they discussed the “Jesus Problem.” There is quite a bit of irony in Caiaphas’ prophecy, which John takes time to explain to us. Politically, it was better for the nation’s peace to put one rabbi to death than allow the crowds he gathered to incite a Roman reaction. This is the old “greater good” argument used by authorities to justify unjust actions. But, of course, the Triune God remained in sovereign control. This one man would die for the nation, indeed for the world. But not to preserve a temporary political peace or for economic stability. He died to redeem us from sin and death. Jesus’ enemies became his unwitting partners in our salvation!
 
The second passage concerns the summoning of the council to try Jesus that Thursday night following his arrest. Think what urgency it takes to get 70 people together for an all night meeting! 
 
Having made the choice to “drink the cup of his Father’s will,” Jesus made little defense against the confused and false choices brought against him. His calm silence infuriated them all the more. When Caiaphas asked him directly about his identity, Jesus made a clear connection between a crucial prophecy and himself.  
 
Daniel 7: 13-14 envisions a time when “. . . there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples . . . should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away. . . . ” This was a key passage about the day when the LORD would send a glorious Redeemer to set all things right. The “Son of Man” was equivalent to the Messiah, a divine figure, and the hope of all Israel. That Jesus would claim such a passage as being about himself would have sounded like ridiculous blasphemy. For clearly, the world was not yet being put right. Or was it?!
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

There’s a Caiaphas in me, Lord,
Whenever I don’t want anything to change.
When my sight is so dim
That I can’t even glimpse what you are doing.
When my faith is so small 
That I think you have forgotten.
I do not believe you will do again 
What you have always done:
Turn ashes into beauty,
Restore the years eaten by the locust,
Bring what is lame back to strength,
Reconcile enemies,
Raise life out of death.
 
I try to swat you away.
Make do with my meager compromises.
Snuff out new beginnings and new life.
Treat your call as a threat.
Cling to my crumbs and never let go.
Lord Jesus, I have failed to see
How you are the fulfillment of all I want.
The ruin of “my life my way”
Is the gateway to everlasting life.
You died for the good of all.
I thought that meant getting rid of you,
But what blessed relief that you return again and again.
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).

 

Combating Plague Mind

Do you have plague mind? You don’t need a doctor’s order to get tested. Just answer the questions below. Then watch Gerrit and Chris’ video on the battle for your mind.
 
If you check more than 3 boxes, this one if for you.
 
Check all that apply:
 
____ I watch too much news. 
____ I’m sick of the people I live with. 
____ I don’t really feel like doing anything. 
____ Yet, I’m bored! 
____ I watch too much television. 
____ I don’t concentrate very well. 
____ I feel poor! 
____ I have floating anxiety. 
____ I don’t sleep very well. 
____ I’ve gotten suspicious of other people.
 

Lent - Day 22

JESUS' ARREST AND TRIAL

Week 4

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Antonio Ciseri. Ecce Homo (Behold the Man). 1870. 
 
 
Thursday night into Friday morning Passion Week darkened into the sham trial and conviction of Jesus as a rebel. The naked power of evil worked through those in charge, from the high priest of Israel to the Roman governor. The crowd of ordinary people exhibited the worst of human nature, intoxicated by the prospect of blood and the condemnation of fitting a scapegoat. These were our worst hours.
 
As his accusers grew less rational and more frenzied, Jesus deepened in his calm. He seemed at peace. This only fueled their fury. They, we, knew he was innocent and decided not to care. 
In this vivid painting by Antonio Ciseri (1871), we see Pilate presenting Jesus to the crowd. Crowned with thorns, arms tied behind his back, dwarfed by the mighty building of Pilate’s palace, Jesus appeared thoroughly subdued. “Behold the man!” Pilate cried out. And to the evil one and all those under his sway, this seemed like the triumph of fully defacing the image of God in humanity. The raw God-hatred deep in our hearts did this to Jesus.  
 
Only Jesus still believed this was not the end of the story.
 

Day 22  Sunday

JESUS AT HIS ARREST
 

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

John 18: 1-11
When Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the brook Kidron, where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, for Jesus often met there with his disciples. So Judas, having procured a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, went there with lanterns and torches and weapons. Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him, came forward and said to them, “Whom do you seek?” They answered him, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus said to them, “I am he.” Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. When Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground. So he asked them again, “Whom do you seek?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. So, if you seek me, let these men go.” This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken: “Of those whom you gave me I have lost not one.” Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.) So Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?”
 

CAST NOTES

Today we look from a different angle at the scene of Judas leading the soldiers to arrest Jesus. We note immediately the calm of Jesus. Into the garden peace of a night on the Mount of Olives came the blare of torches, the clatter of weapons and the tramping of rough feet. Jesus did not run nor shrink back. He came forward and asked an obvious question. He made them say his name, “Jesus of Nazareth.” John records that Jesus replied with two simple Greek words: ego eimi, I am. Throughout John’s Gospel, Jesus had spoken of himself in terms such as “I am the light of the world. I am the resurrection and the life. I am the good shepherd.” Now he speaks an unadorned, simple “I am.” We cannot help but recall the time when the LORD revealed his name to Moses as “I AM” (Exod. 3: 14). This is raw revelation. The eternal Son of God stood before them and declared his identity.
 
Teaching on this passage, my beloved Dr. Kelly quoted, “A beam of Uncreated Light/Pierced the dark Judean night.” Hearing that simple statement, the band of armed, trained soldiers fell to the ground. No one can stand in the presence of holy God unveiled. This reveal was but for a moment, but we realize with crystal clarity, that no army was overpowering Jesus. No earthly powers controlled these events. He went voluntarily, submitting himself to the plan that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit had made before the world began.
 
What do you think made the soldiers fall down? How does Peter’s action contrast with Jesus’ resolve? What made Jesus so calm?
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

Today, we will revisit the prayer Jesus made so shortly before his arrest, the moments with his Father in which he drew on the strength needed to face the hour. I invite you to read this prayer aloud several times. As you read, add your Amen, your “Yes” of thanks and wonder to each line.
 
Father, the hour has come. Amen
Glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you. Amen.
You have given him authority over all flesh. Amen.
To give eternal life to all whom you have given him. Amen.
And this is eternal life, that they may know you, Amen.
The only true God, Amen.
And Jesus Christ whom you have sent. Amen.
I glorified you on earth, Amen.
Having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. Amen.
And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence, Amen.
With the glory that I had with you before the world existed. Amen.
(John 17: 1-5)
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).

 

ENCORE

Today’s passage brings up the concept of kenosis, which means emptying. In Philippians 2: 7, Paul wrote that though Jesus was by very nature the Son of God, “he emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” Jesus laid aside the prerogatives of his divinity. He accepted the limitations of our human nature. He was God who came among us as one of us, in order to save us.
 
In today’s episode, Jesus shows that he is quite aware of who he has always, eternally been: the great I AM. Then he deliberately humbles himself by letting them arrest him. The arrest, trial and crucifixion happened solely because Jesus gave himself over. He emptied himself. Kenosis.
 
Paul would continue, “And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2: 8).
 
Charles Wesley’s magnificent hymn “And Can It Be?” expressed why kenosis matters so much to us. 
 
He left his Father’s throne above,
So free, so infinite his grace!
Emptied himself of all but love,
And bled for Adam’s helpless race.
Tis mercy all, immense and free,
For O my God, it found out me.
 
Amazing love! How can it be
That thou my God shouldst die for me!

 

Lent - Day 21

Day 21  Saturday

JUDAS, PART 2
 

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

Matthew 26: 47-50
While he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a great crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; seize him.” And he came up to Jesus at once and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” And he kissed him. But Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you came to do.” Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus, and seized him.
 
Luke 22: 47-8
While he was still speaking, there came a crowd, and the man called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He drew near to Jesus to kiss him, but Jesus said to him, “Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?”
 

CAST NOTES

Jesus finished his struggle in prayer just in time. From the agony of resisting to the peace of resolution, he would hereafter show an uncanny calm in the face of his passion. He saw Judas leading the soldiers with swords and the mob with clubs.  He accepted the kiss of greeting. But he made note of the irony. Gently, it seems, he became the mirror for Judas as he called his name. “Would you betray me with a kiss?”
 
For Judas, it must have all seemed too smooth. Easy money to take them to Jesus. So predictable that he would be on the Mount of Olives amidst the trees making his prayers. So ridiculous that the authorities asked him to i.d. a man they’d seen all week in public places. 
 
Was his skin crawling as he saw it through? Did he think of turning back? Was his stomach sick or his heart pounding? There is no indication of any pause. He just saw it through for reasons we cannot fathom. 
 
We all know these moments. The millisecond before you threw the punch, knowing the fight that would follow. The clamping down on emotion just as you deliver the words that will break a heart. The pause before you press “send” on an incendiary email. The sound of an invisible door closing as you take the money, sign your name or press the trigger. No return. We did it and nothing will ever be the same. Something dies. Something is cut off. God seems to depart. The loneliness washes in like a tide. 
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

As before, we note how deliberate betrayal of God cuts off our ability to pray. So Judas could only cry out as a solitary man; his prayers were but self-conversations.
 
He knew what I would do. 
He told the others it was me while I was still there.
That backed me into the corner.
One more chance to say, “No” and face their stupid, pious looks.
He told me to do it quickly, as if he wanted me to do it.
It was so quick. So easy.
I greeted him like an old friend.
I called him Teacher like I always had,
But he knew I would learn no more from him.
I kissed him full on the cheek.
I can still feel the tickle from his thick beard.
For a flash, our eyes met. His gaze steady, mine in retreat.
I knew I would never touch him again.
Never see him again.
He called me by name, Judas!
He made sure no one would ever forget me.
Judas is betrayal with a soft word and a tender kiss.
I did it. Played my part. Took the extreme.
So everyone else could feel better about themselves.
But they’re not so different. 
They just lacked courage to see it through.
Only I did it. Handed over the Son of Man as smoothly as a kiss.
Only I. Alone. Unique. The baddest. The boldest. The I, I am.
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).


ENCORE

We know that Jesus knew the psalms and prayed them regularly. His many quotations of psalms in his speech reveal that Jesus knew the psalms intimately. They were ready at hand for his use. In fact, these prayers written a millennium before Jesus walked among us, provided scripts for events Jesus would experience. He could find lyrics for his life as he recalled the psalms in specific situations. Consider how these excerpts from David’s Psalm 55 might have been meaningful to Jesus during Judas’ betrayal. And consider how reading this psalm following his actions might have seared Judas’ soul. 
 
My heart is in anguish within me;
     the terrors of death have fallen
          upon me.
Fear and trembling come upon me,
    and horror overwhelms me.
And I say, “Oh, that I had wings like
          a dove!
    I would fly away and be at rest;
yes, I would wander far away;
    I would lodge in the wilderness;
I would hurry to find a shelter
    from the raging wind and tempest.”
 
For it is not an enemy who taunts
          me—
    then I could bear it;
it is not an adversary who deals
          insolently with me—
    then I could hide from him.
But it is you, a man, my equal,
    my companion, my familiar friend.
We used to take sweet counsel
          together;
    within God's house we walked in
          the throng . . . 
My companion stretched out his hand
          against his friends;
    he violated his covenant.
His speech was smooth as butter,
    yet war was in his heart;
his words were softer than oil,
    yet they were drawn swords.
 
Cast your burden on the LORD,
    and he will sustain you;
he will never permit
    the righteous to be moved.
 
But you, O God, will cast them down
    into the pit of destruction;
men of blood and treachery
    shall not live out half their days.
But I will trust in you.
 

 

Lent - Day 20

Day 20  Friday

DISCIPLES, PART 2: GETHSEMANE
 

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

Mark 14: 32-42
And they went to a place called Gethsemane. And he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.” And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” And he came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy, and they did not know what to answer him. And he came the third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? It is enough; the hour has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.”
 

CAST NOTES

As Thursday night wore on, the feast was over and Jesus went out to pray. There his passion began. First the titanic struggle with the repulsion for the hours ahead. The horror of the physical torture. The shame of the mockery and false accusations. The sting of derision from a crowd that had only days earlier adored him. But worst of all, the bearing of sin. The reception of the wrath of his Father against the evil of the human race. Being cut off from any awareness of the Presence that was his very heartbeat. The sense of displeasing the Father he loved and served with his whole being. The becoming sin. Utter dereliction. Sorrow to the depths of his soul. Jesus struggled to say, “Yes” to the will of God. In those moments, he needed his disciples. He yearned for the companionship of their presence, to feel as if they were with him.  
 
Note again what he asked from them: Sit here. Remain here. Watch. Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation.
 
Note again how they responded: He found them sleeping. Their eyes were very heavy. They did not know what to answer him. 
 
The moment was too much. We know well how hard it is to keep watch, to be vigilantly attentive, to one who is suffering without relief. By a hospital bed. Knocking on the door to break the news of a suicide. Listening on the phone to the story of break up by betrayal. Watching an adult child make a destructive choice and being helpless to stop it. It can all be so overwhelming that we just can’t stay with it. Our heads are so heavy we nearly fall over. We do not know how to answer the need of the moment.
 
All Jesus wanted was the companionship of those who stayed with him. Our hearts break to know we could not give it to him in his supreme solitary struggle.
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

Lord Jesus, what happened to me?
When you needed me, actually needed something from me,
I fell asleep.
The darkness thick like a curtain.
The air was so heavy, it pushed me down.
I saw you go to the ground.
You didn’t look like my Jesus.
All of a sudden, the rabbi I loved
“Had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
And no beauty that we should desire him.”
I felt goaded to despise you, to hide my face from the sight of you.
I fought against the feeling,
But you looked like a beaten man who needs a kick.
“Feeble and crushed,” like one who deserved it.
I knew better but I could not move toward you,
Could not fight the sleep,
Could not stave off my failure in your hour of need. 
You were the sin-bearer, and 
I could take no part of it, even if I wanted to, which I didn’t.
You were alone as you had to be,
And it stabs me to the heart to know my part in your lonely hell.
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).


ENCORE

In The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis created the great Lion Aslan as an allegory for Jesus. In chapter 14, Lewis describes how Aslan walked dejectedly toward the Stone Table to give himself as a sacrifice for the boy Edmund’s betrayal. Two other children, Lucy and Susan, followed at a distance, until Aslan noticed them. He asked them,
 
“Oh children, children, why are you following me?”
 
“Please, may we come with you—wherever you’re going?” said Susan.
 
“I should be glad of company tonight. Yes, you may come, if you will promise to stop when I tell you, and after that leave me to go on alone.”
 
“Oh, thank you, thank you. And we will,” said the two girls.
 
Forward they went again and one of the girls walked on each side of the Lion. But how slowly he walked! And his great, royal head drooped so that his nose nearly touched the grass. Presently he stumbled and gave a low moan.
 
"Aslan! Dear Aslan!” said Lucy, “what is wrong? Can’t you tell us?” “Are you ill, dear Aslan?” asked Susan.
 
“No,” said Aslan. “I am sad and lonely. Lay your hands on my mane so that I can feel you are there and let us walk like that.”
 
So the two girls bury their hands in his thick mane and walk with Aslan, keeping company with him as long as possible.
 
Compare and contrast this scene with Jesus and his disciples in Gethsemane.
 

 

Lent - Day 19

Day 19  Thursday

SIMON PETER, PART 2
 

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

Luke 22: 31-34
“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.”
 
Mark 14: 27-31
And Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away, for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” Peter said to him, “Even though they all fall away, I will not.” And Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” But he said emphatically, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And they all said the same.
 

CAST NOTES

On the last night, Jesus knew his disciples would fall away. Peter’s great heart could not imagine running away. Prison. A fight. Death. He felt like he would face it all.
 
It seemed the deep faith in Peter particularly grated on the evil one. In a mysterious passage, Jesus speaks of Satan “demanding” to sift Peter. This reminds us of the Book of Job when Satan got permission from God to test Job with affliction (Job 2: 1-8). Somehow, Jesus in his prayers to his Father had learned of this specific desire from the opposition behind all earthly opposition. 
 
I find it difficult, even treacherous, to discern which part of our suffering comes from the way a fallen world is, the actions of sinful people against us, the results of our own choices, or particular activity of Satan. All these seem to combine. And we don’t need to figure out which is which in order to see the effect of “sifting.” The old way of separating the edible grains of wheat from the inedible sheaf, or chaff, was a violent process. It involved beating the wheat stalk against a stone or hard earth threshing floor until the kernels were loosened. We’ve all experienced such painful sifting. And how later what remains, or grows, is a greater good than we could have expected.
 
In this instance, Jesus interposed his prayers against Satan’s desire to sift Peter.  Storms rage. Winds howl. Evil yammers and yells. But Jesus quietly pits his words, “But I have prayed for you” against all the shredding forces. Paul reminds us that even now Jesus intercedes for us (Rom. 8: 34). These prayers did not prevent Peter from being tempted, or even from failing. Nor do Jesus’ prayers prevent our being tempted or making choices. But the prayers of Jesus did assure that Peter would recover and grow stronger. And they assure us that good grain will rise as the chaff falls away during sifting. God still works what is meant for evil into good, over time, for those who love him (Rom. 8: 28). 
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

I swore I would be true, and I meant it.
I would never . . .
You can count on me . . .
I’m not like all the others . . .
I am prepared to suffer for you . . .
 
But again you crushed me
With your predictions.
 
And again you surprised me 
With assurances and a mission.
 
You have prayed for me.
 
With all that is upon you,
All your cares, all the needs,
You have prayed for me.
For me!
 
You put your faith in the gap for me.
You take the brunt.
You bear the load.
You keep watch.
You stand for me as you kneel before your Father.
 
My faith will not fail, you have prayed it.
But there will be something from which I must turn again.
Some place I will go from which I must come back.
 
You will crush me, and surprise me
You will soothe me and you will send me.
 
You have prayed for me. 
I can only rest in those prayers. 
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).

 

Lent - Day 18

Day 18  Wednesday

THE DISCIPLES, PART 1: AT THE LAST SUPPER
 

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

Luke 22: 14-30
And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him. And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. But behold, the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table. For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!” And they began to question one another, which of them it could be who was going to do this.
 
A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves. 
 
You are those who have stayed with me in my trials, and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”
 

CAST NOTES

The Passion Week accounts focus heavily on the words and actions of Judas and Peter. But there were ten other disciples in the other room. In today’s accounts, they function as one character. As a collective that includes all of us.
 
Curiously, Luke uses the word “apostles” at the beginning of our passage. That’s a term which means “sent ones.” It is most often used after Pentecost when the disciples were sent in the power of the Spirit to be witnesses for Jesus throughout the world. On Jesus’ last night, the disciples were certainly not acting like the men who would within a few months be turning the world upside down with the gospel.
 
Yet the deliberate choice of this out of place word indicates the faith Jesus continued to have in those he called to himself.
 
This stuns us, because the disciples had just given the strongest evidence yet of their general cluelessness! 
 
Jesus had just interrupted the Passover meal with news about himself. This annual sacred meal included the retelling of the wondrous deeds of the LORD in the Exodus. The story telling happened while certain foods were eaten and cups of wine were raised at particular moments. Jesus took the bread that represented the miraculous manna with which the LORD fed his people and declared it to be about his body which would be sacrificed for them. He took up the third cup, the cup of redemption, and declared it to be his blood, the new covenant by which God redeems his people. Jesus had just made Passover to be the Lord’s Supper!
 
The disciples responded by starting a dispute over which one of them would be greatest in the kingdom of heaven! Every time we get distracted from what matters most by a focus on our own ambitions and concerns, we step into the character of clueless disciples.
 
Yet, Jesus remained ever patient. He assured them of future communion with him in the kingdom to come.  
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

You break the bread, and I wonder if it’s gluten free.
You offer your very self to me, 
Yet I obsess over whether it’s just a symbol.
You lift the cup of wine and I want to know 
Is it wine or grape juice?
You create a new covenant in your blood, 
And I still think the one with the most toys wins.
You give us a sacred way to remember you 
And I am on my phone.
You create one body in one bread, and we let this divide us.
 
Lord, how do you endure your church?
How do you keep faith in us?
 
Yet in your brilliance, you take the result of our faithlessness—your death—and make it the sign of your everlasting, unconditional, redemptive love.
 
Grant us grace, Lord Jesus, to eat your body and drink your blood in such a way that we become more and more one with you and each other.
 
Grant us grace to look up from our lives and see you. 
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).

 

Home Worship

Dearly Loved Congregation,
 
Here’s a new video encouragement for home worshipers that I made with Chris Phillips.
 
Also, big news. For the next two Sundays, at 10.30 am we will have online worship only, no live attendees!
 
Why? Well, not only to comply with health guidelines, but in order to change the format of the live stream so it appeals to more home viewers. The video will be more “up close and personal,” as Chris and I lead you through worship.
 
Also, send us your selfies from where you’re watching worship and any prayer requests to prayer@fpcbr.org. We’ll get the selfies on our Facebook page and show them next week too!
 
News on Palm Sunday to follow in about ten days.
 
Keep praying for each other, our city, our medical professionals, our nation and world. 
 
Jesus reigns,
Gerrit
 

 
 
 
 

Staying Connected In Isolation

Dearly Loved Congregation,
 
It’s so hard to be apart! Seldom have we realized how precious it is to be together.
 
Technology gives us a chance to be connected, albeit without touch or eye contact.
 
So for the next few days, expect a brief video encouragement from me and other pastors and staff.  
 
 
 
News:
 
Our 10.30 am Sunday gatherings are limited to 50. You can sign up to be part of our "Live Fifty" below. We’ll have a waiting list in case some have to drop out: so if you sign up but can’t make it, you can let us know. Others can worship from home via the FPC live stream.
 
This week’s message will be Corona Christians. 
 
If you would like a friendly voice, a prayer, some comfort, or if you have a practical need for groceries or a pharmacy run, contact the church office (225.387.0617 or prayer@fpcbr.org) and we will get you connected.  
 
If you’d like to talk with a professional counselor by phone, you can contact our Baton Rouge Christian Counseling Center and they will have a counselor call you. (225.387-2287) or email BRCCC@brchristiancounseling.com.
 
Keep praying for each other. Keep checking on each other. Keep looking to Jesus!
 
So thankful to be your pastor,
Gerrit
 
 

Lent - Day 17

Day 17  Tuesday

SIMON PETER, PART 1
 

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

John 13: 1-17
Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
 
When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.”
 

CAST NOTES

Simon Peter is a large character. He’s all in. He’s the man of grand statements and dramatic gestures. 
 
As Simon, he made the bold confession “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16: 16). In reply, Jesus called him “blessed” and named him Peter (which means rock), as the foundation for Christ’s church (Matt. 16: 18). Then just minutes later replied to Jesus’ prediction of his suffering, “Far be it from you, Lord!” (Matt. 16: 22). And Jesus had to say to his Rock, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me” (Matt. 16: 23). 
 
In this passage, just hours before Jesus’ arrest, we again see Peter’s hot and cold, large, all-out-there character. 
 
Jesus stripped himself to stoop down to wash his disciples’ feet, the lowliest of servile acts. Peter was horrified! He wanted to prevent his Lord this humiliation. But when Jesus declared it to be a condition of being joined to him, Peter asked for a whole bath! He loved Jesus utterly. Often confusedly, but always whole-heartedly. 
 
What do you admire about Peter? For me, it’s the fact that even in his failures, Peter loved Jesus so passionately. He moves me to open more of my heart to Christ. 
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

Lord, you always surprise me!
You asked me to fish where there are no fish.
And then the boat nearly sank with the catch.
Instead of joy, I felt the terror of my sin.
You crushed me with your holiness.
But then you called me to fish with you for people. 
 
You left us alone to row in the wind and the waves.
When we were nearly spent, you came walking on the water.
I wanted to join you there upon the water.
And you told me “Come!” 
Eyes on you I walked above the sea,
But then I looked down and my fear crushed me.
I squealed like a child for you to save me.
Of course you stretched out your hand.
 
You let me call you Lord and Christ, the very Son of God.
You said I could be your Rock.
Then you told me you had to go to Jerusalem to die. 
How could I let you?
Then you crushed me when you called me Satan.
I only wanted to save you and ended up hampering you. 
But always you forgave.
 
Tonight when we should have been serving you,
You stooped with the basin and the towel.
How could I let you?
But then you crushed me again,
Threatening that I had no share with you.
But Lord, I only want to be with you!
Why do you twist me around like this?
 
I am ever undone by you.
Ever remade by you.
Ever restored by you.
I so often miss the point,
I do not see you coming.
But do not give up on me.
You know, Lord, you know, I love you.
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).

 

Lent - Day 16

Day 16 Monday

JUDAS, PART 1
 

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

Matthew 26: 14-16
Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him.
 
Luke 22: 1-6
Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread drew near, which is called the Passover. And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to put him to death, for they feared the people. 
 
Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve. He went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers how he might betray him to them. And they were glad, and agreed to give him money. So he consented and sought an opportunity to betray him to them in the absence of a crowd.
 
John 12: 4-6
But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it.
 
CAST NOTES
Why did Judas do it? The question endures through the centuries. Why destroy your life to hand over Jesus when they would have captured him soon anyway?
 
John’s Gospel gives Judas a base motive: he was a thief. The greed of a robber provides a presenting motive. It gives Judas a “carrot” to grab. But isn’t there more below the surface of stealing?
 
Luke says “Satan entered into” him. True enough. Judas became a pawn of the evil one. But that’s still not enough. Satan tempts us through our proclivities and weaknesses. He gets hold of us as we yield to temptation. And then creates havoc in our lives.
 
But I want to know more. Had Judas ever loved Jesus? Had he ever had higher motives than the meager money bag of the disciples? 
 
Why did Judas want Jesus stopped? What greater good would that bring?
 
In this first of three days looking at the character of Judas, we acknowledge the mysterious nature of evil. We destroy people we love. We choose disruption over harmony. We wreak devastation when we could have sown peace.
 
Judas was no different than I am. I approach his character with the fear and trembling that I may never get to the bottom of why he, and I, choose evil.
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

Judas traded prayer for conversations with himself. Instead of praising God, he could only rehearse his deeds. Instead of asking God, he could devise plots. When we enter sin deliberately, we interrupt our communion and enter an endless self-loop of solo conversation. Consider if you hear yourself in this one:
 
My God, it was thrilling!
What will you give me if I deliver him to you?
Hand him over. 
Betray his location to you 
So you can find him quietly.
I had the leverage.
I had something to exchange for coin.
To sell him out to buy me out
Of this life, this wandering, 
This dead end death trap of traipsing after him.
Coin to set me up in a real life.
My heart pounded with the possibilities.
 
Sure I felt the bottom drop out of my stomach
When I struck the deal.
The thrill was also fear.
Something hollowed out inside me.
I was losing something I hadn’t known I had.
 
But no going back.
Turn fear to contempt.
Sneer at his lap dog disciples.
Suck on my secret every time
He delivered another brilliant line.
He was going down.
 
I would deliver him. 
They would thank me.
They would respect me.
A man who knows how to deal,
To trade in power and secrets,
Make the Mover move.
I would deliver him,
But who would deliver me?
 
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).

 

 

Lent - Day 15

MOVING INTO THE LAST NIGHT

Week 3

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Andrea Mantegna. The Agony in the Garden. 1455. 
 
 
By midweek, Judas had made a deal with the religious leaders to lead them to Jesus when he was away from the crowds.  
 
In his last day at the Temple, Jesus watched a poor widow offer two copper coins and found encouragement in her faith to give gratefully all she had. Then, he prepared for his final Passover celebration with his disciples. 
 
Before the meal, he took the servant’s role and washed their feet, giving them a picture of what it meant to live from his love. Then, during the sacred meal itself, Jesus inaugurated the sacrament that would continue in his memory until the end of time.
 
He sadly predicted the betrayal of Judas, the denial of Peter and the falling away of the disciples. We will see ourselves in each of these characters.
 
Jesus’ deepest struggle occurred after dinner in the Garden of Gethsemane. His work of bearing the sin of the world had begun and his heart recoiled at the spiritual and physical agony that lay ahead.  
When he had resolved his resistance into obedience, calm pervaded Jesus as he faced those who came to arrest him.
 
In this vibrant painting by Andrea Mantegna (1455) we see Jesus in the Garden resolving “Nevertheless, not what I will, but what you will be done.” And we see our representatives on the scene, Peter, James and John asleep in a heap, even as the mob comes to arrest Jesus.
 

Day 15 Sunday

THE FAITHFUL WIDOW
 

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

Mark 12: 41-44
And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”
 

CAST NOTES

The widow brought two copper coins, the equivalent of a penny, which in those days was 1/64 of a denarius, a day’s wage for a common laborer. So, in today’s terms, it was about $1.25.
 
Jesus found her offering to be more than the enormous gifts of the well to do. They gave out of abundance, out of surplus. She gave out of scarcity, out of the “capital” she had for daily sustenance. In fact, she left herself no reserve for living. 
 
We might consider her foolish. After all, what difference would her gift actually make in the annual budget of the Temple? In what normal logic would it ever seem either prudent for herself or helpful to the Temple for her to give her last resource?
 
Yet, there was precedence. The widow of Zarephath was preparing what she thought was her final meal from a handful of flour and a bit of oil. But when she agreed to share that morsel with the prophet Elijah, the LORD multiplied her flour and oil for days and days (1 Kings 17: 8-16). When five loaves and two fish were offered to feed five thousand, by the Lord’s prayers they were all fed with baskets left over (John 6: 1-14).
 
She gave out of her poverty because she considered even that to be a participation in the LORD’s abundance. When wealth is an end in itself, we never feel we have enough. When God is our all, a morsel becomes riches. Indeed, the heart of faith was revealed all the way from the father of faith, Abraham, who discovered in ever increasing depths that “The LORD will provide” (Gen. 12: 1, 22: 8).
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

I rise this day to give you thanks.
The night has passed. Another day is granted.
My heart beats. I breathe. I see. 
My mind can still remember.
Days of growing up. A sister. Brothers.
Mother telling me of your mighty deeds.
Father saying prayers around the table.
Days with a husband, days of raising children.
So much given to me. So much now gone.
But I do not embitter your gifts because I held them only briefly.
They were never mine to keep.
But they are mine to give thanks for and to give to you.
Once again.
So I find that I yet have strength to rise from bed,
A voice to say prayers aloud,
Water for washing and for drinking.
Bread to eat. You give me all of this today.
 
And more. Today I will go to your house.
To the meeting place. Where your name dwells.
Where the world comes to pray.
And I will pray, I will give thanks.
And this day, oh this glorious day, I get to matter.
Because you have given me coin to share.
To contribute to your house. 
To have a place among those who come as one who also gives.
 
You have given me so much!
All I have comes from you and I give it all to you in praise.
 
I will go to your House.
In your presence is fullness of joy.
In your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
No good thing do you withhold. . . . 
How rich I am with your wealth
No thing would I withhold from you,
My Father, my King, my God, my Hope!
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).

 

Lent - Day 14

Day 14 Saturday

THE TEACHABLE TEACHER
 

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

Mark 12: 28-34
And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions.
 

CAST NOTES

Amidst the defeats and conviction of Passion Week, there are a few bright spots. This encounter is one of them. Religious leaders had been trying to trap Jesus with trick questions. They were not seeking knowledge, but merely to disgrace Jesus with clever theological tactics. But Jesus continually answered them brilliantly. And bluntly. They were not used to hearing a young man say, “You are quite wrong” (Mark 12: 27). No doubt these leaders were furious with shame.  
 
One of the scribes, however, was drawn to Jesus. His question about the greatest commandment was not a trick. He wanted to be sure his life was centered on what mattered most. He saw in Jesus the Source he had always sought. 
 
It would be easy to overlook the courage of this scribe. There was nothing to be gained by siding with Jesus in front of those he just humiliated. There was no professional advancement awaiting an academic who spoke to Jesus as if he knew more than the elders. Rather there would be severe social consequences to one who showed allegiance to Jesus in this moment, when Jesus was definitely trending down in public opinion. This scribe backed a loser. 
 
But he gained ultimate treasure! The scribe and Jesus exchanged Scripture passages together. They were in fellowship as each one enhanced the other with the passages quoted. The scribe paraphrased a verse dear to Jesus’ mission, “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hos. 6: 6). Amidst the severity of Jesus’ Passion Week teaching, he did not overlook one who actually got the point. Rather he blessed the scribe, saying “You are not far from the kingdom of God!”
  
Our God delights in our praying back his Word to him. He loves when we find a friend and proclaim together the glories of our Redeemer. He fills us when we magnify him meditating upon his mighty acts and returning praise to him, both alone and in gathered worship. 
 
Make note of what difference it makes in your life to answer Scripture with Scripture in prayer and conversation.
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

I knew what they were doing.
Trying to trip you in technicalities.
They raised the contradiction of their compromised lives.
Would you place Caesar above the law?
Would you foment rebellion against Caesar?
The cynical Sadducees, so wealthy and worldly,
In need of no one, deluded that having all now is enough.
Would you get lost in their metaphysics?
Would you prove to be just a rube from the north?
But you did not back down.
You dared to look power in the face 
And unmask its hypocrisy and lies.
 
You seemed to know God himself, not just thoughts about him.
You saw the Word as a whole and knew its heart.
 
So I had to ask you.
Do you see what I see? Do I see rightly what we’ve all lost?
 
What really matters most?
 
You knew. You know.
Love.
Loving the one true God with everything.
Loving one another.
That’s under, before, within every sacrifice, every law.
 
In that moment, we touched spirits.
We exchanged Scripture.
You blessed me.
I am not far, you said, not far from the Kingdom.
 
The others hated me for that.
I praised you while they scorned you.
I will pay in position and place.
But I would pay anything to speak to you again.
You said I am near.
O take me the rest of the way.
For I would love you as I love the LORD I AM.
I would join you in the way you love us. 
I love you, Lord Jesus,
Take me into your Kingdom.
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).

FPC Suspends Gathered Worship: A Message from Gerrit and Dr. Katie O'Neal

Beloved Members and Friends of First Presbyterian,
 
I despise media hysteria. I am skeptical of crowd-induced panic. I am determined that First will not behave out of fear or peer pressure.
 
And I now believe we should go to what is basically online worship for the next three weeks. It’s about serving our community, especially our health care services, by limiting large groups in social contact to “flatten out the curve” of a disease that will, inevitably, spread.
 
I’ve spoken to FPC member Dr. Katie O’Neal, who heads Disease Prevention at the Lake. I get it now in a way I didn’t. It’s not about what one individual handshake causes. It’s about the statistical reality of how epidemics spread. The facts, as best as we know them, are that “social distancing” slows down the spread and makes care of sick individuals more manageable. 
 
I then spoke to Dr. Keith Meador at Vanderbilt Medical Center and he confirmed all of the above.  
 
And following that, I have consulted with the session who agreed:
 
For March 15, 22 and 29, we will hold one 10.30 am service in the Sanctuary to which elders, deacons, staff and their families who are not in at-risk categories are invited. We will livestream this service, having communicated to our congregation that beginning Sunday we will eschew large gatherings. Nursery and Sunday school will be suspended for this time.
 
Let’s plan to participate together through our website, sending livestream viewership into the hundreds! Link is below.
 
However, home groups and small groups at church may continue, and people will be urged to follow the prescribed cautions, exercising personal discretion.
 
Chris Phillips and I will shape these services in various styles over the time period. 
 
The Youth Gala is already “out of the gate” and we will trust people to use discretion in their attendance, using good hygiene. 
 
We’re very thankful to Dr. O’Neal for conducting this video interview amidst a crushing schedule. 
 
Please pray especially for our medical providers, our elderly and the shalom of our city.
 
As ever, your pastors, elders and staff are available to serve you and uphold the faith we share.
 
With you in Christ
Gerrit
 
 
 
 
 

Lent - Day 12

Day 12 Thursday

THE TENANTS OF THE VINEYARD
 

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

Matthew 21: 33-46
“Hear another parable. There was a master of a house who planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a winepress in it and built a tower and leased it to tenants, and went into another country. When the season for fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to get his fruit. And the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other servants, more than the first. And they did the same to them. Finally, he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.’ And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.”
Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:     
 
“‘The stone that the builders rejected          
has become the cornerstone;     
this was the Lord’s doing,              
and it is marvelous in our eyes’? 
 
Therefore, I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.” 
 
When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them. And although they were seeking to arrest him, they feared the crowds, because they held him to be a prophet.
 

CAST NOTES

The vineyard had long been a symbol for Israel. The LORD had planted his people in the Promised Land, tending and caring for them in expectation that his vineyard would yield a harvest of righteousness to bless the world. The Jerusalem Temple even had a gilded grape vine carved above its columns.
 
But the vineyard was also a symbol of national failure. The people did not produce the expected fruit. Before Israel’s destruction and exile in 587 BC, Isaiah had prophesied the way the nation had failed,  
 
For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel . . . 
And he looked for justice, 
but behold, bloodshed;
For righteousness, but behold, an outcry!  (Isa. 5: 7).
 
Amidst such persistent failure, the LORD’s people yearned for a Redeemer.  Psalm 80 paints this longing in terms of the vineyard, 
 
Turn again, O God of hosts!
Look down from heaven, and see;
have regard for this vine,
the stock that your right hand planted,
and for the son whom you made strong for yourself! 
But let your hand be on the man of your right hand,
the son of man whom you have made strong for yourself!
 
This psalm mysteriously prays not only for Israel as, collectively, the LORD’s son, but for a particular son, the redeemer of the vineyard yet to come.
 
As Jesus told his parable, he knew his audience would realize that he understood himself as the Redeemer of the vineyard of Israel. They understood that Jesus connected the current religious leaders to the historic, persistent rejection of the LORD’s prophets. The prophets who offered life and hope following repentance were consistently rejected, often violently.
 
The warning applies well to us. For the Word of God still confronts our settled lives. We still resist any call to change, to admit we are not doing just fine, to acknowledge the need to repent. The call of Jesus still provokes fierce opposition in our jaded, self-satisfied hearts. 
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

Praying Psalm 80 with yielded hearts can save us from the resistance of the wicked tenants that resides in us: 
 
Restore us, O God of hosts;
let your face shine, that we may be saved!
 
You brought a vine out of Egypt;
you drove out the nations and planted it,
You cleared the ground for it;
it took deep root and filled the land. . . . 
 
It sent out its branches to the sea
and its shoots to the River.
Why then have you broken down its walls,
so that all who pass along the way pluck its fruit?
 
Turn again, O God of hosts!
Look down from heaven, and see;
have regard for this vine,
the stock that your right hand planted,
and for the son whom you made strong for yourself. . . . 
But let your hand be on the man of your right hand,
the son of man whom you have made strong for yourself!
Then we shall not turn back from you;
give us life, and we will call upon your name!
 
Restore us, O LORD God of hosts!
Let your face shine, that we may be saved! 
(excerpted from Psalm 80: 7-19)
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).

 

Lent - Day 11

Day 11 Wednesday

TWO SONS
 

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

Matthew 21: 28-32
And when he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”
 
“What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.
 

CAST NOTES

This is the first of six parables Matthew records Jesus telling during Passion Week. The characters in these stories represent characters in the drama of Jesus. Because each parable makes the contrast between belief and unbelief very clear. In these stories, Jesus raised the stakes for everyone listening to him. He inspired his disciples and provoked his detractors.
 
The meaning of this parable is not hidden. Jesus explained the characters. The son that says, “Yes” but does not do his father’s will represents the learned elders, the chief priests and experts in the Scriptures. They learned the Word. They enacted the LORD’s worship. They strove to obey the law and serve God. But along the way, they lost the point. They became concerned with external righteousness. They lost the quality of mercy. Their hearts hardened from being pliable to God to being rigid with pride. 
 
The son that says, “No” but ends up doing his father’s request represents the people who previously lived in open rebellion to the Law of God, such as the tax collectors and prostitutes. They lived compromised lives. Even when they knew better. They got so far down the wrong road that most would have thought it was too late to change. But Jesus’ call to them awoke what was still soft and open and yearning in their hearts. It’s never too late. They repented and changed.  
 
Jesus reveals the upside down nature of the Kingdom of God. The notoriously “wrong” may end up being more responsive to his call than the apparently “right.” In today’s measure of righteousness, this means that racists, sexual abusers, bigots, homophobes, exploiters and power mongers may hear the call to turn and be made new before those of us who check every box for what makes us aware, woke, responsible and with-it in today’s world.  
 
Luther reminded us that we all need to repent of our righteousness as well as our sin. For our resumes do not connect us to the Father. Rather, a constant line into the heart that needs mercy and saving keeps us relating to the one Savior.
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

O Father, I have focused on doing right and being right.
I went to school.
I got decent grades.
I obeyed most of the rules.
I made up for what I did wrong.
I learned the codes for how to speak, dress and act.
I got a job. I played the game. I did well.
 
I’m glad I’m not like other people.
So many wasted their lives.
So many don’t know how to act.
They overstate rather than underplay.
They grab and gobble rather than receive politely.
They don’t say thanks and they don’t think about others.
 
And yet when I come before you 
I realize that all my right-ness is but filthy rags.
I repent of my goodness for it hides a complacent, 
In-curved heart.
 
I long for the joy of the dramatically lost who come home to you.
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).


ENCORE

The brilliance of Jesus’ teaching includes deceptive simplicity. Many of his parables draw contrasts that are much clearer than the murky tangle of our ordinary lives. We might want to protest, “But Jesus, it’s just not that simple! Life is more complicated than that!” He riles us.
 
And therein lies his brilliance! Jesus forces his listeners to choose. Are you a good son or a bad son? Are you a wise or foolish maiden? Which kind of ground are you for the seed of God’s Word: hard, thorny, rocky or fertile? Are you true-hearted or double-minded?
 
Of course, we are not simply one or the other. There is a wandering prodigal son in me as well as a judgmental older brother. Sometimes I am prepared to receive Jesus the bridegroom, sometimes I am not. Sometimes my heart is full of thorns and other times it is receptive. Sometimes I am not like either son in today’s parable: once in a while I say, “Yes" and actually follow through! 
 
Jesus knows the nuances and paradoxes of life. But he speaks in such stark contrasts not because he is a simpleton. But because he wants to provoke us to choice. He wants to move us from where we are. He may well frighten us, infuriate us or convict us. He may make us want to question or even argue. But the one thing he never, ever lets his listeners do is to be indifferent. 
 
Today, as always, we have to make a choice about which kind of son we will be. He just demands it. Because the Christ who loves us as we are won’t leave us stuck as we are!

 

Lent - Day 10

Day 10 Tuesday

GENTILE SEEKERS
 

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

John 12: 20-33
Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.
 
“Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.
 
John 12: 44-50
And Jesus cried out and said, “Whoever believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me. And whoever sees me sees him who sent me. I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day. For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.”
 

CAST NOTES

As we’ve noted, not just Jews came to the Passover celebration in Jerusalem.
 
People came from around the world, including this group of Greeks. Greek was the common language across the Roman world, and Greek thought was the pinnacle of philosophy. So these Gentile seekers seem to be educated spiritual questers.
 
In a week when many wished Jesus would just go away, these non-Jewish seekers arrive with a great statement of faith, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”
 
This seemed to be a signal to Jesus that circumstances were moving toward the climax of his life, his Passover of death and resurrection.
The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Christ’s glory was first in his humiliation of his shameful crucifixion. The arrival of Gentiles meant the fulfilling of his mission was at hand:
 
And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.
 
Jesus, the new Temple, began the renewed people of God. He fulfilled the original promise of Abraham that the whole world would be blessed through the LORD’s people.
 
But the joy of his mission being nearly complete sank into the troubling awareness of what would soon be required. His soul grew troubled and he sought reassurance from his Father.
 
The Greek questers seem almost forgotten in this story. Their request to Jesus has cued the final episodes, the inevitable entry into glory that passes through suffering and death. Did they ever meet Jesus? Did they become disciples? Did they hear him say, “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in the world will keep it for eternal life?” 
 
We, as the audience to this drama, must make the connection. We are the bridge. Will we continue their quest right into the words and mission of Jesus? 
 
Jesus grew passionate: he cried out. He made it clear. To see him was to see the Father. To be part of him was to be part of the mission of the Triune God. The choice remained stark: light or dark, life or death, blindness or sight.
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

Sir, we would see Jesus.
And know him to be the object of all our questing.
The one true goal.
The fountain of life.
The source.
Lord Jesus Christ, all our fresh springs are in you.
True image of the Father.
True image of man as meant to be.
Lifted up in shame that becomes glory.
Life out of death.
Impassioned seeker of the lost.
We seek the one who seeks us.
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).

 

 

Lent - Day 9

Day 9 Monday

THE MERCHANTS
 

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

John 2: 13-17
The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
 
Matthew 21: 12-13
And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.” 
 

CAST NOTES

John tells of this episode early on in his Gospel, whereas Matthew, Mark and Luke recount it toward the beginning of Passion Week. Perhaps there was more than one clearing of the Temple by Jesus. Or, as we have seen, perhaps John was narrating with theology providing his order rather than our usual chronology.
 
Either way, the Temple was meant to be the meeting place between the LORD I AM and humanity. People came from all over the world to pray and offer sacrifices at the site where the LORD said his name would dwell. In the Temple atonement for sin was made, prayers of praise and petition were offered, God’s Word was taught. As predicted by Solomon when the first Temple opened, people would stream to Jerusalem from everywhere to seek the LORD (1 Kings 8: 41-44).
 
In particular, people came to Jerusalem during the high feasts, such as the Passover. Rather than travel with animals to sacrifice, people purchased animals in the temple precincts. They also had to exchange their local currency for Temple currency. So there was legitimate trade occurring for, at least on the face of it, very spiritual reasons.
 
But as is so often the case, in home, business or church, logistics and merchandising can get in the way of the original purpose. Many of us have been to holy places and lamented how commercialized the site has become. So even in Jesus’ day, the Temple courts were crowded with tables of trade. People were paying prices set more for profit than fair value.  
 
Jesus, as the Son of his heavenly Father on a mission to save the world, grew disturbed that people truly seeking God were being squeezed out by all the getting and spending. He longed for people to meet his Father in prayer, not only the people of Israel but from all the world.
 
With that passion, and with the authority of the LORD himself, Jesus overturned the tables, scattered the coins, and drove out the merchants with a whip. It was a powerful, sustained, deliberate action. And it was no doubt provocative. Business people don’t like to have legitimate business interrupted, especially during high season.
 
But Jesus, who was himself the new meeting place between God and humanity, was emptying the temple of the old system of atonement, clearing the decks, for the beginning anew of the people of God who would become a living temple founded on himself (1 Pet. 2: 4-10).
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER
 

Unrepentant Merchants
 
Who does he think he is?
Striding in here like he owns the place!
Something should be done.
He’s a menace to all honest working people.
We’ll never get the money sorted out.
We’ll never make up for losing our business today
The height of the feast.
He needs to pay.
Why did no one stop him?
Where were the guards? Don’t we pay for security?
Everyone was afraid.
Did you see the look in his eye?
He’s a big boy, that carpenter’s son.
I wasn’t going to step into that.
But I can tell you, they’ll hear about it from me.
He’s not even from around here.
This is out of hand, out of control.
Something has to be done.
He needs to be stopped so we can go back to normal.
 
Repentant Merchants (based on 1 Peter 2)
 
We come to you Lord Jesus as to a living stone,
The very corner and foundation of a spiritual house
Where spiritual sacrifices of praise may be offered to our Redeemer.
Build us into your living Temple.
Fit us into your body, the church.
We belong to you.
We gather to worship you, forming the Temple of your praise 
Anew, over and over again.
In your Temple we proclaim your excellencies.
You have called us out of darkness
And into your marvelous light . . . 
You have made of us one people,
Out of all nations, tribes and races,
For your cherished possession to be the light of the world.
 
Forgive us when we have clogged the way to you with coming and going, getting and spending, viewing and gaming. We have been restless in our consuming, going from thing to thing while missing the Main Thing! Drive far from us all sinful desires. Don’t let us do anything to block people from you. Make your church, your people, a home of prayer and praise for all.
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).

 

 

Lent - Day 8

Linda Richardson. Anointing at Bethany. 21st c.

ENCOUNTERS EARLY IN THE WEEK

WEEK TWO

In the first days of Passion Week, Jesus openly taught and acted in Jerusalem. It was the week of the year’s biggest feast, Passover. So the city was swollen with visitors from around the nation and world.  
 
Jesus did not play it safe. Quite the opposite. He cleared the Temple of money changers. He convicted the religious leaders of rejecting the LORD’s own Son. Jesus not only expected their rejection, he seemed to invite it.  
 
Opposition grew. Yet so also devotion. So from the business, political and religious sectors, opposition grew intensely. In these responses, we see our own hearts revealed. For we know ourselves to be both resistant and receptive to Jesus, to welcome him and fear him, to desire him and scorn him. 
The week began with Mary of Bethany anointing Jesus’ head and feet. The expensive nard was fit for royalty. Jesus declared her service “a beautiful thing,” preparing him for his burial. The oil and aroma of a king would be upon him through the events of this epic week.  
 
British artist Linda Richardson writes of her painting, “I love this moment in Holy Week, knowing that Jesus had friends who loved him, touched and honoured his body, shared his life, his food, his laughter and his love. Touch the painting, touch Jesus face and imagine what you would say to him and as you smell the beautiful fragrance. What do you think he would say to you?”
 
 

Day 8 Sunday

MARY OF BETHANY PREPARES JESUS
 

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

Matthew 26: 6-13
Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table. And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.” But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial. Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”
 
John 12: 1-8
Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.”
 

CAST NOTES

Matthew and John give us two perspectives on the same story. We learn from John that the woman who anointed Jesus was Mary, the sister of Martha who had served Jesus a great dinner (Luke 10: 38-42) and the sister of Lazarus, whom Jesus had raised from the dead (John 11). These three seem to have had a unique relationship with Jesus, taking the role of steady friends. When Lazarus was ill, the sisters sent a message saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill” (John 11: 3). The word used is the love of friendship, of brotherly affection. Mary had earlier been praised by Jesus for understanding that “but one thing is necessary” (Luke 10: 42) as she sat at Jesus’ feet listening to his teaching.
 
This Mary of Bethany is not the same Mary who is the mother of Jesus or Mary Magdalene whom we will engage on Days 36 and 37. This dinner at Bethany seems to be in honor of Jesus for his raising of Lazarus, though it was held at the house of Simon, who had once been a leper. While they were still at table, Mary made her extravagant gesture.  
 
The ointment could well have been worth a year’s wages. It was a once-in-a-lifetime gift. Once the alabaster flask was broken open, the nard had to be used. This was the kind of anointing a king would receive; the ointment smelled like royalty. The aroma would linger powerfully on the skin for days: through the hours of fear, stress and bleeding. Mary gave Jesus a king’s anointing before he died a criminal’s death. 
 
The intimacy of touching his head and wiping his feet with her hair provoked the disciples with jealousy, which Judas expressed in a hypocritical concern for the poor. But Jesus called her gift “a beautiful thing.” It was a final, grand gesture of love. Seemingly futile but expressive of the heart.  
 
So we wonder, “If I knew he would suffer and die within a few days, what would I give Jesus to show him my love and offer him comfort?”
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

You speak the words of life.
You fill my heart.
You wept at my tears.
You wept for my brother’s death.
You spoke the words that raised him to life.
You are the Lord of life who gives life,
And you are on your way to die.
 
Though the others do not want to admit it.
I see the strain on your face.
I know the wind rises stronger against you.
I know that you go to meet those who will kill you.
 
Oh, receive this!
You know you have my heart. Now have this gift.
It is fit for a king. It brings the aroma of royalty.
Its odor will linger through these days.
 
Breathe it in. Let the pungency rise amidst
The smells of tears, strain and fear, of sweat and blood.
I touch your hair, your head, with this oil.
You do not flinch as I dare to come so close.
I wash your feet with the oil of kings, and 
Give you all glory as I wipe your tired feet with my hair. 
Oh receive this and remember love as you stride into hate.
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).

 

 

Lent - Day 7

Day 7  Saturday

THE CROWD ON PALM SUNDAY
  

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

John 12: 12-15, 19
The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written,   
 
“Fear not, daughter of Zion;    
behold, your king is coming,            
sitting on a donkey’s colt!” 
 
So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.”
 
Luke 19: 37-40
As he was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives—the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”
 
Luke 19: 41-42 
And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.”
 
Matthew 23: 37 
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often I would have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!
 

CAST NOTES

During Passover, Jerusalem was filled with pilgrims from all over the world. It was a homecoming for the people of God, who gathered to sacrifice the lambs and keep the feast of the LORD’s deliverance, the very foundation of their identity as a people. 
 
Jerusalem itself is a cast member and so are its crowds.
 
The expectation of the time was that the Messiah, the Christ, would arrive in Jerusalem to take up his throne and reign, ushering in a new age of freedom from enemies, of peace, worship, joy and fruitfulness. Israel would be at last restored as the jewel of nations as the LORD of all the earth ruled through his Messiah from Jerusalem.
 
This beginning of Passion Week included a moment in which the crowd, representing humanity at large, had to recognize the arrival of the King. “See, the whole world has gone after him.” Even creation had a part to play as God came to set all things right. “I tell you if these were silent, the very stones would cry out!”
 
Yet, we see from this scene that people are easily swayed, changeable, enthusiastic in both worship and scorn. Jesus wept over the city which cheered him. He knew the history of rejecting prophets. He felt sorrow that people ran from his sheltering love like chicks scattering from their mother hen.  
 
So the crowds and the holy city of Jerusalem are a key character in this drama, representing both the faithfulness and the betrayal, both the sin and the belief, in the human heart. It is from these crowds on the stage of this city that the characters of Passion Week, both the courageous and the cowardly, will emerge. 
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

Pray aloud these passages associated with Palm Sunday from the very beginning. Allow yourself to pray as one standing in the crowd watching Jesus enter the city. Let these verses awaken the ancient longing in you for God to come at last to make all things right. 
 
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
Righteous and having salvation is he,
Humble and mounted on a donkey,
On a colt, the foal of a donkey . . .
And he shall speak peace to the nations;
His rule shall be from sea to sea . . .
As for you also, because of the blood of the covenant with you,
I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit.
Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope. 
(Zechariah 9: 9-11)
 
This is the day that the LORD has made;
Let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Save us, we pray, O LORD!
O LORD, we pray, give us success!
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD.
We bless you from the house of the LORD.
The LORD is God, and he has made his light to shine upon us.
Bind the festal sacrifice with cords, up to the horns of the altar.
You are my God, and I will give thanks to you;
You are my God, I will extol you.
Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
His steadfast love endures forever.
(Psalm 118: 24-29)
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).

 

 

 

Lent - Day 6

Day 6  Friday

THE FACE OF THE OPPOSITION
  

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God (John 5: 18).
 
Luke 18: 9-14
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt. “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner.’ I tell you this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
 

CAST NOTES

We have already seen that the opposition to Jesus resides in every human heart, in the collective spirit of the world and in the malevolence of the spiritual Enemy of God and his creation. That shared, unseen resistance takes particular expression in the human enemies that Jesus faced during Passion Week.
 
When we read that “the Jews” sought to kill Jesus, we do not read with anti-Semitic eyes. That would be to miss the point. When we read “the Jews” in the gospel, we know he means, “the people who already knew better.” We think then today of church people. Of those who know the Scriptures, who go to worship and keep the feasts of the church. They could not grasp the surprising twist that God would take up frail human flesh. It seemed like blasphemy. I’m quite sure I would have missed it too!
 
In today’s parable, we also meet the most zealous of the LORD’s people. The Pharisees had devoted themselves to strict observance of holiness. Their mission was to preserve the distinctiveness of God’s people during Roman occupation and the great pluralizing force of Greek culture. The Pharisees had a good impulse toward holiness. Good motivations, however, often tumbled into crushing legalism. The difficulty arose when this rigorous observance became legalistic, more concerned with rules than heart, with judgment than mercy.
 
Along with the Pharisees, our drama includes other religious elites who became part of the opposition to Jesus. The scribes and lawyers were scholars of Scriptural law. They learned not only what the Bible said in detail, but the traditional commentaries and interpretations of Scripture. These were trained theologians, always engaged in debates.  
 
The ruling council was called the Sanhedrin. Comprised of only 70 members (plus whoever presided as chief priest for the year), many of them priests and/or Pharisees, the council was the elite of the elite. There was also a group called the Saducees. They represented “old money” and aristocratic social standing. The Saducees rejected any belief in a future resurrection. Generally, they liked the way things were and would resist any upstart like Jesus. 
 
Which of these groups do you most see yourself in? Are you more prone to legalism or worldly compromise? Do you ever get afflicted with spiritual indifference because you have been a believer so long? Has leadership in the church ever burned you out on faith?
 
How could identifying more with the tax collector in this parable restore you to a more vibrant relationship with Christ and a deeper love of others?
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

Again Lord Jesus, I read the gospels and am led to confess. Sometimes, I have been the face of the opposition toward you. This day, I want to own your descriptions of the Pharisees as often true of me:
 
O Lord Jesus, with the tax collector, I bow my head, beat my breast and cry, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”
 
I preach but do not practice. I give other people tasks and burdens but do not myself life a finger (Matthew 23: 2-4).
 
By my indifference, blindness, snobbiness, overlooking, scorn or judgment, I have “shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces” (Matthew 23: 13).
 
I have been picky about particular points of behavior while neglecting “justice, mercy and faithfulness” (Matthew 23: 23).
 
I have cleaned the outside of my life while inside I have remained “full of greed and self-indulgence” (Matthew 23: 25).
 
You could well say of me Jesus, when I am all dressed up with my resume in hand and smooth speech on my lips that within “I am full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness” (Matthew 23: 27).
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).

 

 

 

Lent - Day 5

Day 5  Thursday

JESUS ANTICIPATES THE CRISIS OF PASSION WEEK
  

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

Mark 8: 27-38
And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him. 
 
And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
 
And he called to him the crowd with his disciples and said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? For what can a man give in return for his life? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
 

CAST NOTES

This week, we have been setting the stage for the drama of Passion Week. We have already met the “invisible” yet central characters of the Father and the sinful human heart. We have considered the heart of mission that beat through Jesus and the reality of the spiritual Enemy he faced. 
 
Today we consider how Passion Week did not just happen to an unaware and surprised Jesus. He anticipated the crisis. In fact, he sought out this final conflict and brought it all to a head according to his own timing at Passover.
 
Let’s follow the plot line. 
 
Jesus lived to please his Father and to enact his mission to save the world.
 
As he ministered, however, he was aware that the opposition toward him would grow and that this was part of his Father’s plan.
 
Jesus told his disciples long before it happened that the religious leaders would reject him. He would be sentenced to death, but this would not be a final defeat, for he would rise in victory three days later.  
 
Jesus knew that Jerusalem was the Holy City, the nation’s capital, the site of the Temple in which the LORD’s presence resided. There the resistance to the Kingdom Jesus inaugurated would be most severe.
Even Thomas knew that going to Jerusalem meant escalating the conflict to a fatal level: “Let us also go [to Jerusalem], that we may die with him” (John 11: 16).
 
Still, Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem (Luke 9: 51).
 
How is your understanding of Passion Week affected by knowing that Jesus predicted what would happen?
 
Could you name three qualities of character required of Jesus to enter Jerusalem fully aware of the outcome?
 
Could you describe a time when life looked like the opposition was writing the script but then you discovered that God held the “pen” all along?
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

Once again, let’s step into the character of Jesus by taking words he prayed on our lips. Pray aloud this prayer of Jesus several times. Step into Jesus’ awareness of what awaited him and his understanding of why he had to go on:
 
Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name. . . . Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself. He said this to show by what kind of death he would die (John 12: 27-33).
 
And add your own prayers,
 
Father, I know that difficult passages await me. I will experience sudden reversals. Acute pain. Poignant losses. Betrayals and rejections. Agonizing defeats. We cannot avoid passing through the valley of the shadow of death. You do not save your children from these hours. But you do save us in the midst of such times and you carry us through. 
 
Before I get surprised again by reversal, I want to set my heart. Father, glorify your name through me. Draw others to yourself even when, especially when, I am lifted up in suffering. Allow me to say with Jesus, whatever befalls, ‘For this purpose I have come to this hour.’ That you might be seen in me. 
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).

 

 

 

Lent - Day 4

Day 4  Wednesday

THE OPPOSITION BEHIND THE OPPOSITION
  

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

Genesis 3: 1, 4-5
The serpent said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’? . . .” “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 
 
Matthew 4: 1, 8-10
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil… The devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.  And he said to [Jesus], all these I will give you, if you fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’”
 
John 8: 44 
“You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”
 
Revelation 12: 9 
And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth and his angels were thrown down with him.
 
1 John 3: 8b  
The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.
 

CAST NOTES

The Biblical story has from the beginning acknowledged the existence of an adversary. We translate the Greek word diabolos as the devil, which means the slanderer, the one who maligns us. We translate satanas as Satan, the adversary, the accuser. The two words are used interchangeably. Jesus also refers to him as “the evil one” (Matt. 6: 13).
 
The devil appears as early as Genesis 3 in the guise of the serpent who tempts Eve.
 
There is no explanation given for why God’s good creation has a tempting serpent in the Garden. It’s just the way it is. Scripture gives little information about how Satan came to be or even why he is the way he is. But Scripture is clear from beginning to end that the devil and his minions exist.
 
Jesus was tempted by the devil to take short cuts in his redemptive work, and he considered Peter’s suggestion that he decline crucifixion to be the words of Satan himself (Mark 8: 33).
But he came to destroy the works of the devil. Satan introduced the temptation that, when taken, caused death to enter the world. Jesus would, by dying a criminal’s death as an innocent man, destroy the power of death. He would break the Accuser’s argument by taking away the fear of death. 
 
Through death, Jesus “destroyed the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and [will] deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (Heb. 2: 14-15).
 

PRAYING AGAINST THE CHARACTER

Father, we know that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6: 12).
 
Father, deliver us from evil. Deliver us from the evil one (Matthew 6: 13).
 
For by your Word, we reject his temptations and his accusations:
 
Get behind me Satan, for you do not set my mind on the things of God, but of man (Mark 8: 33).
 
You seek to sift me like wheat (Luke 22: 31). 
 
You seek to devour me like a lion (1 Peter 5: 8). 
 
You seek to deceive and to accuse (Genesis 3: 13, Revelation 12: 9-10).
 
The Lord rebuke you! (Jude 9).
 
I resist you in Christ’s name (James 4: 7). 
 
For greater is he who is in me than he who is in the world (1 John 4: 4). 
 
The Son of God appeared to destroy your works (1 John 3: 8). And indeed he has!
 
Jesus, Son of God, you partook of flesh and blood that through death you might destroy . . . the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery (Hebrews 2: 14-15).
 
Jesus, you give us eternal life, and we will never perish, and no one can snatch us out of your hand. For your Father, who has given us to you is greater than all (John 10: 28-9).
 
Jesus, you are the propitiation for our sins and our advocate before the Father (1 John 2: 1-2). We are yours forever and therefore we are yours this day.
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).

 

 

 

Lent - Day 3

Day 3  Tuesday

THE OPPOSITION IN OUR HEARTS 
  

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

John 1: 11 
He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.
 
John 3: 19 
And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than the light, because their works were evil.
 
Mark 7: 20-23  
What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.
 

CAST NOTES

Another central character in the drama of Passion Week is the collective heart of a humanity that opposes God. This shared resistance takes center stage through various characters we will meet. But it is important to realize that each antagonist in this story draws from the sinful nature in which we all share.
 
The eternal Son came to us as the man Jesus in order to restore humanity to our intended place of intimate fellowship with God. He came to give us abundant life (John 10: 10).
 
For the most part, though, humanity did not respond positively to Jesus. The world at large did not recognize him as the Son of God (John 1: 10). His own particular people, those who knew the Scriptures, did not receive him as Lord and Savior (John 1: 11). The light entered the world but people preferred darkness (John 3: 19). 
 
Our self-will, embedded deep in every soul, persisted in declining God’s love even when God showed up personally as Jesus.
 
The source of resistance to God is the in-curved heart of sinful humanity. We prefer not to acknowledge God nor give him thanks (Rom. 1: 21). We have ever wanted our lives to be “our will, our way.”
 
This collective resistance to God in each heart has become the “spirit of the world” (1 Cor. 2: 12) which sweeps us away from “your will be done” to “my will be done.”
 
Where do you see your self-will show itself most often? 
 
When are you most likely to stay in the dark rather than come into the light of God? 
 
What draws you out of the dark of self-will and toward your Redeemer?
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

In 1630, Johann Heerman penned one of the most devastatingly accurate Passion Week hymns. Try on these verses as a means of prayer:
 
Ah, holy Jesus, how hast thou offended,
That we to judge thee have in hate pretended?
By foes derided, by thine own rejected,
O most afflicted!
 
Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon thee?
Alas, my treason, Jesus hath undone thee.
‘Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee;
I crucified thee. 
 
Join your mind and heart to this prayer based on Romans 1: 18-32:
 
Gracious Triune God, full of steadfast love and mercy, we agree with Scripture’s honest assessment of us. We confess that what can be known about you is plain to see: your eternal power and divine nature shine through creation.  
 
Yet although we know in our bones that you exist, we do not honor you as God day to day, nor do we give sufficient thanks. 
 
Trying to live without you, trying to make sense of the world while forgetting you, has led to futility in our thinking. Without you to enlighten us, our foolish hearts are darkened. 
 
Claiming to be wise, we exchange your glory for tokens of created things. We devote ourselves to art, sports, business, medicine, construction, family, education—all good things, except when we make them ultimate goals. In the end they cannot fill the ache we have for you. 
 
But still we try to live without you. We exchange the truth of God for lies, time and again. It never works. So we, personally and as a human race, have been filled with all manner of destructive unrighteousness: covetousness, malice, disordered sexuality, envy, murder, strife, deceit, gossip, slander, insolence, rebelliousness and arrogance. 
 
We are inventive in evil and creative in disobedience, but dead, flat and boring in connecting to you. We have become foolish, faithless, heartless and ruthless. We are the opposition you met in your days among us. We are the enemies who resisted you and finally put you to death. Oh, how we need a Savior! 
 
Conclude your prayers aloud with the last two stanzas of Heerman’s hymn:
 
For me, kind Jesus, was thine incarnation,
Thy mortal sorrow, and thy life’s oblation,
Thy death of anguish and thy bitter passion,
For my salvation.
 
Therefore, kind Jesus, since I cannot pay thee,
I do adore thee, and will every pray thee,
Think on thy pity and the love unswerving,
Not my deserving.
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).

 

 

 

Lent - Day 2

Day 2  Monday 

THE MISSION OF JESUS    

 

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

Matthew 9: 9-13 
As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew, sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him. 
 
And as Jesus reclined at table at the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
 
Mark 10: 45  
For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and give his life as a ransom for many.
 
Luke 19: 10 
For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.
 
John 3: 17 
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
 

CAST NOTES

In today’s passages we can connect Jesus’ love for his Father with his sense of mission. For Jesus, the purpose of the drama of Passion Week is to love his Father by redeeming lost humanity. Let’s follow the thread of the story line: 
 
The heart of Jesus is his love for his Father.
 
The mission of Jesus was (and is) to do his Father’s will.
 
The will of the Father and the Son toward us is to call sinners, to seek and to save the lost, to give the Son’s life as a ransom for many, that the world might be saved through him.
 
The purpose of Jesus enacting his eternal love for his Father from within our humanity is our eternal salvation! To take away our sins. To include us in the Triune life! To give us a share in the Son’s sonship! To make everything sad come untrue and inaugurate the creation of the new heavens and earth.  
 
To put it another way, Passion Week is the climax of the story of the Redeemer. The final battle of the hero along the way of his journey to save his people. He came from heaven to fight against the enemies of humankind and thus bring back to his Father a great gift: human beings ransomed, freed, restored and forgiven.
 
So Jesus can answer these ultimate questions for himself.
 
Why have you come here?
I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. John 10: 10
 
What gift do you bring us?
I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. John 10: 28  
 
What promise do you make?
Because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in the Father, and you in me, and I in you. John 14: 19b-20.
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

Once again, we will pray with Jesus using the words from his lips in Scripture. Pray these passages aloud several times, imagining Jesus in various Biblical situations. Feel his passion for us—for you—as you enter into the prayers he made on our behalf.
 
As Jesus prepares to teach his disciples:
I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation, I will praise you (Hebrews 2: 12; Psalm 22: 22).
 
As Jesus prays in Gethsemane before his arrest, 
And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. . . . I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them (John 17: 3, 24).
 
As he arrives in heaven after his ascension, making intercession for us,
Behold, I and the children God has given me (Hebrews 2: 13; Isaiah 8: 18).
 
Finish your prayers by recalling aloud the redeeming purpose of the Gospels:
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).

 

 

 

Lent - Day 1

INTRODUCING THE CHARACTERS

WEEK ONE

Context is crucial to understanding the people and events of Jesus’ passion. This week, we will set the stage by introducing the protagonist of the drama, Jesus himself. We will consider passages in which the heart of Jesus is revealed: his relationship with his Father in the power of the Spirit. And we will explore his mission to seek and to save the lost.  

 
We will also encounter his antagonists. World-wide opposition to the rule of God resides actively in every human heart. That opposition expressed itself in the particular resistance of the religious leaders who opposed Jesus. There was, however, a power behind the face of his enemies, the Evil One, who has ever tempted humanity toward the destruction that is sin.  
 
Finally, we will see the high stakes and heartfelt struggle Jesus went through as he entered the Holy City to reclaim its allegiance. Jerusalem and its crowds from around the world form the tableau in which our redemption, Christ’s Passover, would be worked out. 
 
In 1320, Pietro Lorenzetti breathed fresh, colorful life into his rendering of the traditional icon of Jesus’ triumphal entry. We can see the moment when humanity joined creation in acknowledging that the king of all had come to us. We rejoiced in his humility, to ride on a donkey. And we exulted in his majesty. He was worthy of our praises, short-lived though they will prove to be.
 

Day 1 Sunday

THE FATHER

 
Begin by reading aloud the purpose of the Scriptures:
 
That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).
 
Of course, Jesus is the main character on the stage of Passion Week. But he is always oriented toward an invisible character: the Father. Everything Jesus does and says flows from his ardent, intimate love for him. To understand Jesus, we have to grasp how the Father/Son relationship is at the heart of this story.
 

FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

John 4: 34 
My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.
 
John 5: 19-20 
The Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing.
 
John 6: 38  
For I have come down from heaven, not to do my will but the will of him who sent me.
 
John 10: 30  
I and the Father are one.
 
John 14: 31 
I do as the Father commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father.
 
John 17: 24b 
. . . you loved me before the foundation of the world.
 

CAST NOTES

In his every word and action, Jesus’ heart beats for his Father. Love for his Father is the constant backdrop of Jesus’ ministry. He is the backbone of Jesus’ faithfulness through his trials. The Father is the central, yet invisible character in the drama of Passion Week.
 
In today’s passages, we see that Jesus feeds on doing his Father’s will. Obeying God sustains him. It’s the very source of his vision and his labor. 
 
Jesus never wanted to do anything except to imitate the character of his heavenly Father through his faithful, earthly humanity. There’s a wonderful, boy-like feeling to his words, “Whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise.” Like Father, like Son. The two are so close that Jesus can say they are one. This love story he tells precedes the foundation of the world!
 
To understand the drama of Passion Week, let’s consider: 
 
God is love (1 John 4: 8). Love means relationship. The one God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God exists as an eternal relationship of love. The divine persons ever give themselves to one another in creative, uninhibited love. A chief quality of love is that it brings forth life. From this Triune love, the world was made.
 
The Father spoke the world into being through the Word that is his Son (Col. 1: 16) and shaped that world into its intended form through his creating Spirit (Gen. 1: 2). Humanity was meant for a life of flourishing relationship with God and one another as we exercised a benevolent dominion over creation.
 
Yet, the Triune God’s good world fell into darkness and death through human sin.
 
To save his creation, for our sake, the eternal Son entered the world as one of us in Jesus.
 
In Jesus, that eternal relationship of love between the Father and the Son was lived out in our world as Jesus the man loved and served and worshiped his Father.
 
Jesus loved his Father in perfect faithfulness, fulfilling what humanity was always meant to be. This was, and is, his passion. 
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

Today, let’s step into the character of Jesus by taking words he prayed on our lips. Pray aloud these prayers of Jesus several times. Step into Jesus’ passion for his Father. Pray with him in order to know the heartbeat of his life. As you do so, imagine Jesus speaking to his Father in various situations: 
 
At Jesus’ baptism as he consecrates himself for ministry, 
 
Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book (Hebrews 10: 7, Psalm 40: 7-8).
 
As Jesus rejoices when his disciples return from healing and preaching in his name, 
 
I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will (Luke 10: 21).
 
As Jesus prepares for his arrest and trial:  
 
[May] they all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you sent me (John 17: 21).

 

Now connect the gift of these recorded prayers to the intent of the Gospel as you read aloud:
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).

 

 

Lent - INTRODUCTION

Each Maundy Thursday, we stand by the tomb and sing the question, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” The event happened two millennia ago in a land far across the sea. It occurred amidst people who spoke a language very few of us today can understand. How could we possibly have been there? But still we sing the answer, “Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.” The distant story moves us still. Convicts us. Gathers us up. Changes us. Because it’s not just ancient history. The unbroken witness of the people who belong to Jesus is that we are included in his passion and resurrection!
 
The four Gospels devote nearly a third of their content just to the eight days we call Passion Week, the time from Jesus’ triumphal entry on Palm Sunday to his resurrection on Easter. His whole ministry becomes concentrated in this week in Jerusalem. It has all come down to this. Here we see most clearly who Jesus is. Here we see most starkly the human reaction to Jesus the Son of God who came to love and save us. We see acts of humble, sacrificial devotion. We see acts of foul betrayal. We encounter embarrassing denials and beautiful gestures. Through the parables he told during Passion Week, we hear Jesus describe the various ways people respond to him. We see his bravery as he engages the questions and accusations of the earthly authorities. Passion Week provides a window into the heart of Jesus and the hearts of those who encountered Jesus on his mission to save the world. As such, it provides a window into our hearts as well. 
 
Scripture teaches that Jesus suffered and died for us (2 Cor. 5: 16). He could do this because the man Jesus is also the Son of God and our Creator (Col. 1: 16; John 1: 3). As Maker, Jesus is connected to all of us. So what Jesus did as a man he also did as the God who relates to each one of us. His life, death and resurrection are of the highest significance to the human race. But each of us has to get spiritually joined to these events to access their full benefit. We get united to this Jesus by his Spirit through faith (Rom. 6: 3-4; Eph. 2: 8-10; Gal. 4: 4-6). Believing in Christ and entrusting ourselves utterly to him, we get taken into Jesus’ story as the defining narrative of our lives. His story becomes our story. We get the benefits, and the mission, of all he said and did. Then, we realize, yes, we were there! 
 
So by interacting with the characters of Passion Week, we can engage with our own responses to Jesus. We can find courage. We can be warned. We can be moved to love Christ more dearly. We can expose our own fierce desire to protect ourselves. We can see just how much it took for Jesus to persist in fidelity to his Father through the rage and rejection of the world in order to fulfill his plan of rescue for the human race. Yes, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble. Because I know I was there. I know I am like each and all of the people and powers Jesus encountered. And, despite myself, I want so much to grow in faithfulness to Jesus. 
 
I hope you will join me in encountering the people of Passion Week over these next 42 days. I pray that as you take up this study, you will grow closer to Jesus so that during Passion Week 2020 you will experience ever more deeply the sorrow and the triumph, the horror and the splendor of the week Jesus gave himself utterly so that we might be saved thoroughly from sin, evil and death. 
 

HOW TO USE THIS STUDY

 
Entering the Drama
 
I have precious memories of an Easter afternoon when my father took me to see a Passion Play at Orange Bowl Stadium in Miami. The field had become a stage on which the events of Jesus’ final week were enacted before the great crowd. Passion plays, of course, are a great and ancient Christian tradition around the world. For Passion Week is high drama. This is the climax of Jesus’ life among us. Every encounter is charged with significance. Every person who takes the stage has an eternally important role to play. Every line spoken remains inestimably important to us. 
 
So I’m inviting you to consider the characters the Gospels record as part of Passion Week as actors in a play. The script contains the drama of our redemption. As in any play, there is a protagonist, a hero, who of course is Jesus. There are also antagonists, both spiritual and human. There are mixed characters, the ones most like us, who can be faithful in one moment and faithless in the next.  
 
While the historical events of Holy Week are unrepeatable, the spiritual dynamics of these intense days continually play out in our daily lives. Drama shows us ordinary life in concentrated form. The gospel accounts of the drama of Jesus’ final week can be revealing and encouraging to us as we seek to live out loyal love for Jesus amidst our ordinary temptations, sufferings, resistance and distractions.
 
Each day in Lent offers three sections, sometimes four, for engaging with the characters and situations of Passion Week:
 

FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

 
Here we meet the characters through the passages in Scripture where they take the stage. Some days we will look back before Passion Week to learn the motivations for their actions in Jesus’ final days. The verses are the scripts for the scenes in which these people play their Passion Week roles. They are our source material.
 

CAST NOTES

 
During rehearsals, directors offer notes to the actors about their parts. They help the players go more deeply into character. They give ideas for how better to express feelings and motivations. In this section, we will make a bridge between our world and the world of the Biblical characters. Though we may be centuries, continents and cultures removed from their lives, human emotions remain constant across all times and places. These notes attempt to draw us close to the people of Passion Week. This is a time for you to connect to the characters.
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

 
Praying with people draws us close to them. Praying as someone takes us deeply inside the heart and soul of a person. Based on our scripts and notes, each day we will have opportunity to step into the Biblical character and pray from his or her perspective. In this way, we will feel more personally Jesus’ interactions with each person. We will come to experience how we are like each character. And we will engage our Lord as he draws each of us more deeply into himself.
 

ENCORES

 
About a dozen days contain bonus material. To stay with our theatre theme, we’re calling these encores. Just a bit of extra for reflection and prayer. 
 

DAILY QUOTES TO PRAY

 
For an actor to bring a character to life, the lines have to be learned so well that they come off the page and into the present moment. We won’t be learning all the lines of the scripts we read. But we will daily be reading aloud two key Scripture passages that relate to our study. These verses take us straight to the heart of why we read the Bible: so we may have present and vital communion with the Triune God and one another.
 
1) 1 John 1: 3. Every script from Passion Week is a witness to the things Jesus said and did. The ancient account becomes presently powerful by the work of the Holy Spirit in our reading and contemplating. This passage from 1 John explains how the ancient word reaches across the miles and centuries to draw in each new generation of believers. We draw as close to Jesus as the disciples who were with him when we encounter Jesus through worship, Word, sacrament and prayer. This is a key passage to know:
 
 
That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).
 
2) John 20: 31. John concludes his Gospel by reminding his readers of his purpose in writing. It’s not just to provide an exciting account of an interesting person. We read the scripts of the Gospels in order to be brought to belief: active devotion of our lives to Jesus as the Savior, the Lord and the Son of God who became Son of Man on our behalf. Such active belief creates life by the power of his life. We come out of the darkness into the light. We are born anew into living hope. We pass from death to everlasting life:
 
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).
 
So I will be inviting you to say aloud these two verses every day of Lent. By the end of our 42 days, you will have committed them to memory and their meaning will have opened to you in new, unexpected and enlivening ways.
 
In Lent 2020, my prayer is that you will meet the people of Passion Week in such a way that you are taken deeply into the heart of the drama of our redemption. And that from such identification, you will be strengthened for daily discipleship and a glorious celebration of Jesus’ Easter victory.
 
Gerrit Dawson

 

Never Would I Ever!

Did you ever play that game in your misspent youth? Someone names an outlandish behavior beginning with the phrase, “Never would I ever . . . ” But, if a participant has ever done that crazy thing (like swallowing a live goldfish), it must be admitted.
 
What if we played that game with the Passion story?
 
Never would I ever . . . get near a crucifixion. Yet, even as Simon of Cyrene raises his hand and describes carrying the cross for Jesus, I hope that I, too, would have had courage to help Jesus along his painful way.
 
Never would I ever . . . say I didn’t know Jesus. Yet, watching Peter ashamedly admit his denial, I recall all the times just this week that I did not take a stand for Christ.
 
Never would I ever . . . betray Jesus with a kiss. Yet even as Judas stands up to confess, I know that every time I “kiss” the cup as I drink during communion, my lips have also betrayed Jesus many times that week.
 
Never would I ever . . . give away a family heirloom on a lost cause. Yet, I see Mary anoint Jesus with a perfume worth tens of thousands of dollars. I see Joseph offer the executed Jesus his own burial plot. And I long to show extravagant love to Jesus.
 
We may well approach the stories of Passion Week thinking “Never would I ever . . . ” Surely those people then are nothing like me now. But just a bit of reflection and we realize, “I was there!” 
 
Studying the people Jesus encountered during Passion Week can rock your world, change your life and set your heart aflame with love for the Savior who undertook death and hell for your sake. 
 
So don’t miss a day! Get your beautiful Lenten book Were You There: Meeting the People of Passion Week, sign up for the daily emails, join a weekly home group and make it a priority to be at church every Sunday from now through Easter. You won’t be the same!
 
Youth Department News
 
We’re blessed to have a great youth staff team. Working to maximize the gifts of our staff, we’re reorganizing the ministry. 
 
Youth Ministry Administrator: Jessica Saffell 
 
Director of Youth: Middle School and Girls, Paula Walker
 
Assistant Director of Youth: High School and Boys, Noah Pourciau
 
The difference is that Jessica will become the “organizer” of our ministry, deploying our on-the-ground directors, Paula and Noah, in reaching middle school and high school students. Students will notice no change in how their programming works. Parents will notice that questions about trips, logistics, dates and details will go to Jessica first, rather than Paula, thus freeing Paula to spend more time with our students. 
 
 

Were YOU There?

It’s your story. And it has all the makings of great drama. Intrigue. Sudden reversals. Intimate interactions. Betrayals. Violence. Courtroom maneuvers. Help from unexpected places. Dire villains. A hero who passes through grave peril to glorious triumph.
 
It’s your story. Because it’s the story of Jesus. We are in Christ. So in all he said and did, Jesus included us. All of his life was on our behalf. So always, his story is our story.
 
But we also find ourselves in the people who interacted with him. We identify with his opponents and his followers, with the betrayers and the devoted, with the conflicted and the proud. From Mary to Pilate, from Judas who betrayed to Simon who carried his cross, from Peter who denied him to the centurion who confessed him, we were there.  
 
The story of Passion Week is a story that touches our souls with poignancy. It reaches our hearts with conviction and comfort, with sorrow and rejoicing. Passion Week is the story we can’t stop telling. The best became the worst and then became something even better. It catches up our whole lives, the whole world. Nothing is more important than this true story.
 
And I want to take you there. This Lent, we’ll be studying the people of Passion Week. Day by day we will read about the many characters and the lesser characters, seeing how each one fits as we follow the episodes of this great story. We’ll learn to see through their eyes, and even pray through their prayers as we identify our lives through these characters. And discover anew how Jesus relates to us in truth, grace and love.  
 
Beginning February 9, you will have an opportunity to sign up to be part of a home group study. On March 1, we’ll receive our beautiful all-new Lent guides: Were You There? Meeting the People of Passion Week. We’ll be able to sign up for daily email delivery. And each week at worship we will go in depth with one of the characters.  
 
 
 
 

 

Listening Through the Crack

What if you found the door to the divine throne room left slightly ajar? What if you could listen through that crack to overhear what the Father, Son and Holy Spirit were saying to each other? And what if you discovered they were talking about us?!
 
Hidden Conversations: Overhearing the Trinity is the theme for three special presentations January 31/February 1. We call it a “Stay-Treat” because it’s like a retreat: we eat together, hang out together and study the Word together. But we get to go home and sleep in our own beds! Friday evening and Saturday morning, Dr. Matthew Bates will lead our explorations of conversations recorded in Scripture between members of the Trinity. Often overlooked entirely, these amazing passages led the early church to realize that the one God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We actually get to overhear the Trinity talking about how to save us! 
 
Mark your calendars now! You will never read Scripture the same way again! All this, plus a great dinner Friday night, yummy desserts and a special track for kids. Also, I’ll be leading an intro session to the topic in the Crossroads Class January 5, the Kingdom Builders class January 12 and the Essentials class January 19 to help get us ready.
 
 
Hellos and Goodbyes
 
As the New Year begins, we say goodbye to some faces we love and hello to some faces we will grow quickly to love. Elizabeth Parker has concluded her five and a half years with us, and we give thanks for dedication among our women and in the ministry of the Word. Nancy Spiller is concluding her second tour as a worship director. 
 
We’re so grateful she postponed her retirement to step in last summer when we had a critical need. There’s only one Nancy! And we welcome Chris Phillips as our new Director of Worship.
 
Chris begins January 12. He is moving here from Jackson, MS along with his wife Virginia and son Benjamin. I know you’ll be delighted to meet the Phillips. 
 
And I’m delighted to begin another new year with you, beloved congregation!
 

Why I Love XMas!

Hey, keep Christ in Christmas!! I agree! Merry Xmas! (Has our pastor lost his mind? Probably, but that’s another column . . . ).
 
Did you know that the familiar abbreviation for Christmas does not have secular origins? An “X” has been used for Christ since the time of the ancient church, even in some manuscripts of the New Testament! The “X” represents Chi, the first letter in Greek for christos, or Christ. An X for Christ has also been found in English writing since the 15th century. 
 
So, I’m happy to reclaim the “X” in Xmas. And I enjoy the “X” all year long. I’ve even abbreviated my personal vision for ministry to these 3 characters: Q4X. Quest for Christ. As you study ancient Christian symbols and art, you’ll often find this symbol: two Greek letters combined, the Chi (X) and the Rho (an “r” that looks like a “p”). These are the first two letter in christos and they make a beautiful symbol for our Lord and Savior. So, joyous Xmas to you!
New Xmas Eve Morning Service
 
The session has authorized a third Christmas Eve service! This 11 am worship will be a multi-media journey of lessons and carols designed especially for families with young children. We will tell the ancient story and sing the favorite songs in a way that appeals to our youngest worshippers. Glow sticks will replace drippy candles, and we’ll use instruments, arts and stories to keep it creative and joyful. An infant nursery will be offered. There won’t be communion. And, of course, we will be offering our 4 pm and 6 pm festive services of candlelight and communion. 
 
It’s always a joy to keep Christmas with you.
 

Season of Thanks

Gratitude is the path to well-being.  Thanksgiving transforms toil into delight.Saying a blessing brings more pleasure to the meal.  A grateful heart is a merry heart.  Scripture urges us to rejoice always and to give thanks in all circumstances. So true. Yet, at this time of year we more intentionally appreciate all that God has given us. As we prepare to celebrate the birth of God’s Son, our hearts want to make a return for such a gift.
 
It’s easy for me to be thankful for our church. We stand in a crowded Sanctuary singing “A Mighty Fortress” with the organ and brass sounding forth. I rejoice to be in the company of the saints, both the ones in that hour and all the faithful ones who have raised their voices through two centuries. I can’t help but smile when I see the sweet faces of our Mother’s Day Out children gathering for chapel. Practicing for the Christmas play with elementary students, I delight in their enthusiasm. Hearing the questions of confirmation  students, laughing with a group of men about the foibles of our discipleship, or feeling the passion in our members doing city mission and international ministry, I’m just moved with thanks. All year long I am grateful for our life among the extraordinary believers in Baton Rouge.
 
Just a few highlights for particular praise. The session has called Chris Phillips to be our new worship director. At Belhaven University, Chris taught worship leadership for both traditional and contemporary styles. At Lakeside Presbyterian in Jackson, Chris has been designing and leading services in both accents. We look forward to welcoming Chris, his wife Virginia and his son Benjamin in January.  
 
The session has authorized our hosting a third Christmas Eve worship service. This 11 am Sanctuary program will be especially designed for families with younger children. We’re trying it out this year in hopes of offering a convenient option for little ones while also alleviating some of the overcrowding we’ve had at the four o’clock service. More details next month.
 
We dedicate our Estimates of Giving November 10. My challenge: fill out your card before the LSU/Alabama game! That way you will know what matters most. And if the unimaginable happens and our idols are shattered, you can remember you acknowledged God first! And if our football dreams come true, you’ll be delighted to celebrate with this act of faith. Just sayin’!
 
As ever, I hope you can tell how proud I am of you and how much I love being your pastor.
 
  

Beautiful Spaces

We enjoy an unrepeatable location in the heart of Baton Rouge. We worship in an irreplaceable Sanctuary and Chapel. Our forebears in faith looked well beyond themselves in giving us such beautiful spaces for our life together in Christ.
 
By God’s bounty, this season of the church’s life affords us opportunity to enhance and protect what has been left to us. We are able to offer current and future members unprecedented facilities and grounds. The session has approved spending up to $850,000 in renovations and improvements over the next two years.
 
Projects include installation of lovely brick and aluminum fencing like we have on our playgrounds. We will enclose both our inner and outer perimeters. We’ll be able to go between our buildings or play in our gardens without worry that children will get loose into the street or parking lot. The whole block will feel welcoming but secure, and we’ll be adding more lanes for drop off by our entrances. We plan to upgrade all doors and locks with a new security system, including better cameras at the entrances. Inside, we’ll be replacing the current Sanctuary screens with brighter, sleeker LED screens and we’ll be adding higher quality cameras for livestreaming. The project includes fire sprinkler replacement in the Education Building, electrical surge protection and general beautification in a number of rooms.
Best of all, this project will be funded by the carefully stewarded income from our endowments. We don’t plan to ask you for anything more! We never use endowment income for the ongoing operation of the church and its mission—that’s why your annual gifts are so very important. But because of these well-managed extra sources, we are able to do special projects like this. How bountifully our God has blessed us, and now we will pass along an even more beautiful campus to those who come after us.
 
KidsHope
 
The session recently endorsed augmenting our ministry to the Gardere Community Christian School through beginning a new initiative. KidsHope USA is a national Christian mentoring program which enables churches to undergird schools with prayer and intentional mentoring. Every volunteer mentor has a prayer partner lifting up both the student and the mentor. Each hour spent with children has intentional activities designed to build character, communicate love and improve academics.  Annette Lamond will direct our program and I’d love for you to contact her to find out more.  And, as ever, I give thanks for you as I rejoice in being your pastor,
 

The Key That Unlocks It All

Have people ever said this to you? “Well, you know you can make the Bible say anything you want!” They have a point. People use the Bible to justify all kinds of unbiblical things. Both “liberals” and “conservatives” do this. We are all always looking for a Jesus more in our own image: he’s much safer that way!
 
So how do you know the correct way to interpret the Bible? What’s the key to faithful interpretation? How do you keep from going wrong when you read the Word?
 
These are actually very ancient questions. Already in the 2nd century, a group called the Valentinians was talking about the Christ within. They were claiming to be Christians even as they cut off the real Jesus from their very inward focused spirituality. And they quoted Scripture doing so! This was confusing “normal” Christians. Thankfully, a bishop named Irenaeus came to the rescue.
 
Irenaeus knew we need a key to unlock the Word. We need to find Scripture’s core story so we can understand all the other stories in the Bible. We need one true “rule of faith” that guides the way we read any and every verse.
 
Irenaeus knew this golden key, this secret code, was not hidden. It was right there in the preaching of the gospel. The key is simply the core story of the Triune God as he made himself known in Jesus Christ. Irenaeus wrote out the crucial formula of faith that resolves the meaning of all Scripture.
 
Now here’s the kicker. His rule of faith sounds almost identical to what came to be known as the Apostles’ Creed. The Creed gives the boundaries within which we can understand the Bible, and the God of the Bible, truly and rightly. 
 
Wait, did I just hear you yawn? Did you just mutter, “The golden key is just that old dusty creed?” I know. The Creed is a bore if you don’t know what it is. I found that my love for the Apostles’ Creed transformed when I stopped thinking of it as a set of abstract principles and dry doctrinal statements. Instead, I see the Creed as a story. It’s the bones of the essential story of what the Triune God has done, is doing and will do in the creation and redemption of the world.
 
One core story is the key that unlocks the whole story. The Creed is the story that pulses with energy. It leads us to meet Jesus, the real Jesus of history, the one Redeemer and Lord of all. 
 
This fall, we’ll be exploring this golden key in worship each week starting August 11. Don’t miss even one episode in the story that explains it all!
 
Should Boys See The Lion King?
 
You bet! As I sat in the theatre with a four-year-old grandson nestled on my lap, I was struck anew by the positive power in this story of Simba the lion cub who learned to be king. In a world too often full of male-bashing, The Lion King offers a rousing view of what makes a strong man and why he’s so needed.  
 
Psychologists have identified essential tasks of fruitful manhood. They include being a warrior, a king, a lover and a sage. Simba learns that a realm only flourishes when the king serves a higher good than himself. He learns from his father that a king’s job is not to take but to protect, to give and to serve the realm.  
 
We know this is true whether the realm is a whole country or just a single life. A man is only a fruitful man when he knows he exists for a higher good than himself. When Simba grasps this, it makes him bold to be a warrior willing to defend his people and a husband willing to commit to his wife. He also learns to trust the sage baboon, to lean on the wise one as he seeks wisdom. The Pride Lands are only saved, the lions only rallied, when Simba takes up this servant leadership with great courage and willingness to risk. 
 
Does the movie have all the Christian worldview I would like? Of course not. But by all means, every boy (and Dad) needs to see this lushly illustrated tale of what makes for genuine, life-giving manhood.
 
Worship Director Update
 
With the untimely departure of Steve Newman, we’re so thankful Nancy Spiller has agreed to postpone her plans and serve as Interim Director of Contemporary Worship through December.  Thanks Nancy! Meanwhile, the search revives and we ask for your prayers.
 
I love being your pastor.
 

Damnable Lies and Who Tells Them

You are a terrorist. You are plotting the overthrow of the government. If the coup had succeeded, you would have been named head of the CIA.
 
These are some of the outrageous accusations the Rev. Dr. Andrew Brunson faced in his trial in Turkey. This EPC pastor who had served the people of Turkey for more than two decades was jailed for two years and on trial for his life: as an enemy of the state, as the mastermind of a planned rebel coup. 
 
The charges were ridiculous, of course. But they nearly stuck. Who tells such lies? The paid witnesses. The government officials seeking political capital. Paranoid politicians. But behind every outrageous lie, there is another power. Our Enemy. The one Jesus prayed about in the Lord’s Prayer: deliver us from the evil one. There are spiritual forces arrayed against truth, against love, against fidelity, against flourishing.
 
Here in America, the Turkish lies look silly. That’s only because we weren’t actually immersed in the daily web of deceit. Here, the lies the evil one tells us seem more reasonable. They are so well embraced that we accept them. They get told by the nicest, most attractive people. Even though they are just as outrageous and just as destructive. Such as:
 
You belong to no one but yourself. It’s your life. It’s your choice. You must hate women, since you’d restrict abortion laws. You must be a bigot since you believe marriage is between a man and a woman. Gender, after all, is but a social construct. Your children need to experience it all in order to succeed. Games are more important than spiritual formation if you don’t want your kids to be weird. All that matters is the bottom line. Money is power. Purchases will soothe me; experiences will fulfill me. You only have one life to live, and it’s yours to live. No one has the right to tell me anything.
 
Yes, chances are you’ve spoken some of those lines, or been told them, or thought them. They are all lies, woven with half-truths. They undo us every day. 
 
Andrew Brunson found his love and loyalty for Jesus tested to the depths in 700 days of lonely imprisonment. He discovered, in the pit of forsakenness, that love for Jesus was at the core of his being. The ultimate reality. And that Jesus was not only worthy of his love, but worth his suffering. 
 
That truth cut through the despair in the web of lies in Turkey. It still cuts through the fog of illusions in our culture.
 
At FPC, we are a truth-telling, love-inspiring, idol-smashing, mission-propelling community. We’re proud that Andrew Brunson is part of our denomination. He is a faithful prophet with a word for us. Wherever you go this summer, dear ones, stay close to the one who is Truth. Expose the damnable lies you get told, and the damnable lies your own heart generates. Stay close to each other, because we can’t do this alone. May you refresh and return as together we go deeper in Christ the way, the truth and the life and further into the world with his shimmering, loving truth.
 
 

Looking Back and Visioning Forward

The weeks following Easter are a time for both gratitude looking back and visioning forward. Your leadership takes a breath, giving thanks for the full seasons that ran from Advent and Christmas through Lent and Holy Week. What a glorious time we had! And we start now to anticipate and shape our direction for the fall. 
 
I write, of course, as the senior pastor whose rhythms follow the church year. Other ministries aren’t taking a breath at all. Youth ministry gears up, not down, with summer trips and Children’s Ministry steams into a week of camp at Lake Forest, then Vacation Bible School week. We take advantage of the pauses in our students’ schedules to get them involved in service and study.
 
For me, these are the days when I can give thanks for all you make possible through your outpouring of time, prayer, money and service. Our membership remains steadily dedicated in all these areas week by week. You make possible this ridiculously talented, faithful and harmonious staff team. You make possible a myriad of ministries into our community. You undergird our church plant in New Orleans: Church of the Resurrection is now two years old, with more than 100 making membership commitments. The Gardere Community Christian school pulses through its seventh year, with more than 125 students learning in an exciting, faithful, loving environment. The Christian Outreach Center has put hundreds of students through job training in a climate of faith in Christ, many of whom have moved into financial self-sufficiency. Our worship services inspire us each week with glorious, textured music featuring talented musicians and an expert technical team. Now you’ve made possible a full time worship pastor to take us into the future. We underwrite mission efforts around the world and engage a faithful, mission oriented denomination as part of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. Your gifts and your service make all these relationships possible. The numbers tell us that you are one of the most generous congregations in the nation. I fight the sin of pride regularly! So, thank you for loving your Lord through loving your church in such tangible and significant ways. How could I not love being your pastor?
 
By Gerrit Dawson
Senior Pastor
 

Day 42, Saturday (April 20) - Living into His Name

THE COMING KING

King of Kings and Lord of Lords
Day 42   Saturday

__________________________________________________

EXPLORE THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST

For us there is one God, the Father,
from whom are all things and for whom we exist,
and one Lord, Jesus Christ, 
through whom are all things and through whom we exist (1 Corinthians 8: 6).

REVELATION 19: 16, 11: 15
On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.
 
The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever. 
 
CONSIDER
Every day this Lent we have prayed that for us there is but “one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.” I hope we each know much more about what it means to declare Jesus to be Lord. We have seen that he is our Creator and he is our goal. And he is the means to that goal: we live through his life. The vision in Revelation 19 is of a conquering king who comes to bring the world into alignment with his gracious reign. Christ the King makes all other claims to authority pale by comparison. Every pompous leader, every bold proclaimer of which way history is going, every strident assertion of self, every quiet rebel, every narcissistic blow hard must all yield to the one true King, to the world’s true destiny, to the Sovereign.

__________________________________________________

PRAY THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

Begin with the Jesus Prayer. Pray it reflectively several times, for yourself or on behalf of another. 

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Then pray the day’s prayer slowly and repeatedly for at least a minute (that’s about seven times). Allow the prayer to take you into the meaning of the day’s facet of Jesus’ name. Pray it for yourself and/or on behalf of another. Take your time and trust this process!

Lord Jesus Christ, King of kings and Lord of lords, cause the kingdom of this world ever more to become the kingdom of our God and of his Christ, who will reign forever and ever. Amen. 
 
__________________________________________________

LIVE INTO THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

He has granted to us his precious and very great promises, 
so that through them you might become partakers of his divine
nature . . . For this very reason, supplement your faith with
virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness,
brotherly affection and love (2 Peter 1: 4-7).

1 TIMOTHY 6: 11-16
But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will display at the proper time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.
 
CONSIDER
Acknowledging the reality that Jesus is King of kings has direct implications for daily life. Based on Christ’s sovereignty, Paul is bold to ask Timothy to fight the bloodless fight of proclaiming the gospel: right under the nose of the mightiest empire the world had yet seen!
 
He charges us to live in a way befitting servants of the high King. To live with the joy of eternal life to come the faithfulness required of us right now. To live knowing our King will return to claim his world.
 
Based on our destiny in the one who called us, we live in hot pursuit: questing after a life marked by godliness, steadfastness, gentleness, rightness, faith and love.
 
The more we know who Jesus is, the more motivated and empowered we are to live according to the character of the called and claimed.  
 
Take time today to acknowledge the sovereignty of your great Lord, the one King of kings. Singing these verses from the hymn can help you ride toward the throne in praise:
 
At the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow,
Every tongue confess him King of glory now;
Tis the Father’s pleasure we should call him Lord,
Who from the beginning was the mighty Word.
 
At his voice creation sprang at once to sight,
All the angel faces, all the hosts of light,
Thrones and dominations, stars upon their way,
All the heavenly orders in their great array.
 
In your hearts enthrone him; there let him subdue
All that is not holy, all that is not true:
Crown him as your Captain in temptation’s hour;
Let his will enfold you in its light and power.
 
Brothers, this Lord Jesus shall return again,
With the Father’s glory, over the earth to reign;
For all wreaths of empire meet upon his brow,
And let our hearts confess him King of glory now.
 
Caroline Noel. At the Name of Jesus. 1870.

LISTEN TO TODAY'S HYMN

Day 41, Friday (April 19) - Living into His Name

THE COMING KING

The Judge
Day 41   Friday

__________________________________________________

EXPLORE THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST

For us there is one God, the Father,
from whom are all things and for whom we exist,
and one Lord, Jesus Christ, 
through whom are all things and through whom we exist (1 Corinthians 8: 6).

MATTHEW 25: 31-32
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.”
 
JOHN 5: 21-29
For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. For the Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. 
 
“Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.
 
CONSIDER
Some names of Jesus are tender; some are so serious that they take away our breath. Today we explore that Jesus is Judge. He is the one with whom we have to do. Every person will appear before his judgment seat. There will be a separation of people. Based on Jesus.
 
Thankfully, Jesus is the Judge and we are not. We cannot render verdict on anyone’s final destiny. But we can know what is necessary. The Judge turns out to be our Savior. But that means we will have to look to him for salvation and not insist on our own autonomy or personal sufficiency. We will have to willingly bow the knee. And what we have done on earth will matter. He expects us to treat the least and the lost as if they were himself. He expects that we will have realized that we were saved for a purpose: to be a people zealous for good works, taking his gospel to the ends of the earth. Jesus the Judge will reveal just how much our lives matter.

__________________________________________________

PRAY THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

Begin with the Jesus Prayer. Pray it reflectively several times, for yourself or on behalf of another. 

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Then pray the day’s prayer slowly and repeatedly for at least a minute (that’s about seven times). Allow the prayer to take you into the meaning of the day’s facet of Jesus’ name. Pray it for yourself and/or on behalf of another. Take your time and trust this process!

Lord Jesus Christ, righteous Judge before whom all will stand, make me to live as one ever before your sight and on the way to your throne. 
 
__________________________________________________

LIVE INTO THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

He has granted to us his precious and very great promises, 
so that through them you might become partakers of his divine
nature . . . For this very reason, supplement your faith with
virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness,
brotherly affection and love (2 Peter 1: 4-7).

ROMANS 14: 10-12
Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written,    
 
     “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,
          and every tongue shall confess to God.” 
 
So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.
 
CONSIDER
How we treat one another seems every bit as important to our Judge as how we show faith in him. In fact, it seems that the way we love, or fail to, reveals the level of authenticity in our worshiping faith. What gets stirred in you reading this passage from Romans today? And what will you do about that stirring?
 
Close by singing through these words from a lesser known Wesley hymn: 
 
Lo, He comes with clouds descending,
Once for favored sinners slain;
Thousand, thousand saints attending,
Swell the triumph of his train:
Alleluia! alleluia!
God appears on earth to reign.
 
Every eye shall now behold him, 
Robed in dreadful majesty;
Those who set at naught and sold him,
Pierced, and nailed him to the tree,
Deeply wailing, deeply wailing,
Shall the true Messiah see.
 
Yea, amen! Let all adore thee,
High on thine eternal throne;
Savior, take the power and glory,
Claim the kingdom for thine own:
O, come quickly, O, come quickly!
Everlasting God, come down. 
 
Charles Wesley. Lo, He Comes with Clouds Descending. 1758.

LISTEN TO TODAY'S HYMN

Day 40, Thursday (April 18) - Living into His Name

THE COMING KING

The Bridegroom
Day 40   Thursday

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EXPLORE THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST

For us there is one God, the Father,
from whom are all things and for whom we exist,
and one Lord, Jesus Christ, 
through whom are all things and through whom we exist (1 Corinthians 8: 6).

EPHESIANS 5: 25-32
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.
 
REVELATION 19: 6-9
Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out,  
 
     “Hallelujah!
     For the Lord our God
          the Almighty reigns.
     Let us rejoice and exult
          and give him the glory,
     for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
          and his Bride has made herself ready;
     it was granted her to clothe herself
          with fine linen, bright and pure”—
     for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. 
 
And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.”
 
CONSIDER
In Scripture, the most intimate human relationship, that of husband and wife, is considered to be but a sign, a promise, of the greater intimacy and ecstasy of our eternal union with Jesus. He is the groom and we, his church, are the bride. Just as joined to Christ, both women and men are sons of God, so also, in Christ, both men and women are the Bride of Christ. He has betrothed himself to us. The pledge of the fullness of our union is the Holy Spirit within us. He is Jesus’ engagement ring given to us! And our groom has sacrificed himself in order to prepare us for this marriage. He has bought us back from slavery to sin, cleansed us of all sin, and ever works to recreate our hearts so we can live in fidelity to the one who has pledged himself eternally to us.

__________________________________________________

PRAY THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

Begin with the Jesus Prayer. Pray it reflectively several times, for yourself or on behalf of another. 

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Then pray the day’s prayer slowly and repeatedly for at least a minute (that’s about seven times). Allow the prayer to take you into the meaning of the day’s facet of Jesus’ name. Pray it for yourself and/or on behalf of another. Take your time and trust this process!

Lord Jesus Christ, beloved Bridegroom, betrothed to your people, make us a pure and holy Bride to adorn your majesty.
 
__________________________________________________

LIVE INTO THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

He has granted to us his precious and very great promises, 
so that through them you might become partakers of his divine
nature . . . For this very reason, supplement your faith with
virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness,
brotherly affection and love (2 Peter 1: 4-7).

ROMANS 10: 9-13
. . . if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
 
CONSIDER
One of the loveliest moments in an engagement is when she says, “Yes!” That verbal agreement is necessary to the coming wedding. It is the response to the groom’s proposal in which he pledges himself. So, too, with our bridegroom Jesus it is necessary that we answer his proposal. We say, “ Yes.” We speak with our mouths aloud that Jesus is Lord and Savior, and we have the intention of our hearts to be his bride. Reaffirm aloud in prayer this day that you would say, “Yes” to him all over again!
 
Close by praying through this setting of Psalm 45, a love song to Jesus the Bridegroom who has pledged himself to his bride the church. 
 
My heart does overflow, a goodly theme is mine;
My eager tongue with joyful song does praise the King divine.
Supremely fair you are, your lips with grace overflow,
His richest blessings evermore does God on you bestow.
 
Amid your glorious train kings’ daughters waiting stand,
And fairest gems bedeck your bride, the queen at your right hand.
O royal bride, give heed, and to my words attend;
In Christ, the King, forsake the world and every former friend.
 
Based on Psalm 45, from The Psalter, 1912.

LISTEN TO TODAY'S READING

Day 39, Wednesday (April 17) - Living into His Name

THE COMING KING

The Lamb Who Was Slain
Day 39   Wednesday

__________________________________________________

EXPLORE THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST

For us there is one God, the Father,
from whom are all things and for whom we exist,
and one Lord, Jesus Christ, 
through whom are all things and through whom we exist (1 Corinthians 8: 6).

REVELATION 5: 6-14
And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying,    
 
     “Worthy are you to take the scroll
          and to open its seals,
     for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God               
          from every tribe and language and people and nation,
     and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,               
          and they shall reign on the earth.” 
 
Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, 
 
Worthy is the Lamb who was slain
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might 
and honor and glory and blessing!” 
 
And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, 
 
“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb 
be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” 
 
And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped. 
 
CONSIDER
In his Revelation, John wrote that he saw a door left open in heaven. He was allowed to look into the realm beyond and see to the heart of reality. There he saw the throne of God surrounded by mighty angelic beings who worship unceasingly. But as he looked, John saw a drama unfolding. There was a scroll to be opened. It symbolized the future of God’s dealings with his world. It contained the destiny of humankind. But no one in heaven or on earth was found worthy to open the scroll, which would mean determining the future. But then there stepped forward a Lamb. But the Lamb was literally a walking contradiction. He stood. Yet he appeared slain. He reigned. Yet he bore wounds of sacrifice. The Lamb alone was worthy to open the scroll: to create the future for mankind that God had planned. This Lamb who was slain is of course Jesus who died and rose, Jesus who is God and man, who is sacrifice and Lord. This plan of the Triune God to save us by entering the world as one of us and giving away his life for unworthy sinners is so original, so surprising, so glorious that angelic holy beings sing of it into eternity.

__________________________________________________

PRAY THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

Begin with the Jesus Prayer. Pray it reflectively several times, for yourself or on behalf of another. 

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Then pray the day’s prayer slowly and repeatedly for at least a minute (that’s about seven times). Allow the prayer to take you into the meaning of the day’s facet of Jesus’ name. Pray it for yourself and/or on behalf of another. Take your time and trust this process!

Lord Jesus Christ, you stand as the Lamb who was Slain but lives as present and future Lord. Bring all things into submission to you.
 
__________________________________________________

LIVE INTO THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

He has granted to us his precious and very great promises, 
so that through them you might become partakers of his divine
nature . . . For this very reason, supplement your faith with
virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness,
brotherly affection and love (2 Peter 1: 4-7).

ROMANS 14: 7-9
For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.
 
CONSIDER
The Lamb who was slain, the Lamb who stands as King, is our purpose. He has opened the new and living way for us. He is the way and the goal. Consider how Paul drives this foundational insight straight into moment by moment decisions: Christ died and lived again. Therefore, we live and die, in every moment, unto the Lord. His huge story catches up our little daily story every second of the day.
 
Close by singing the words of Matthew Bridges vision of the Lamb who was slain:
 
Crown him with many crowns, the Lamb upon his throne:
Hark! How the heavenly anthem drowns all music but its own!
Awake, my soul, and sing of him who died for thee,
And hail him as thy matchless King thru all eternity.
 
Crown him the Lord of love, behold his hands and side—
Rich wounds, yet visible above, in beauty glorified.
No angel in the sky can fully bear that sight,
But downward casts a burning eye at mysteries so bright.
 
Matthew Bridges. Crown Him with Many Crowns. 1851.

LISTEN TO TODAY'S HYMN

Day 38, Tuesday (April 16) - Living into His Name

THE COMING KING

The Lamb of God
Day 38   Tuesday

__________________________________________________

EXPLORE THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST

For us there is one God, the Father,
from whom are all things and for whom we exist,
and one Lord, Jesus Christ, 
through whom are all things and through whom we exist (1 Corinthians 8: 6).

EXODUS 12: 21-27
Then Moses called all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Go and select lambs for yourselves according to your clans, and kill the Passover lamb. Take a bunch of hyssop and dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and touch the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood that is in the basin. None of you shall go out of the door of his house until the morning. For the LORD will pass through to strike the Egyptians, and when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the LORD will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you. You shall observe this rite as a statute for you and for your sons forever. And when you come to the land that the LORD will give you, as he has promised, you shall keep this service. And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the LORD’s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses.’” And the people bowed their heads and worshiped. 
 
1 CORINTHIANS 5: 7b-8
For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
 
JOHN 1: 29-30
The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’”
 
CONSIDER
To understand Jesus as the Lamb of God, we explore the event of Passover. The setting was the final days of four hundred years of slavery for the LORD’s people in Egypt. The final plague was coming upon the land to force Pharaoh to relent and let God’s people go. The Israelites put the blood of a lamb on their doorposts so that the angel of death would pass over their homes. Inside, they would cook and eat that lamb as a sacred meal confirming them as the LORD’s obedient people. The next day they were set free and soon passed through the parted waters of the Red Sea into freedom. 
 
Paul and John identify Jesus as the Lamb of God. He became the sacrifice that gives us life. His blood over our hearts causes the wrath of God against sin to pass over us, for Jesus took that wrath. His blood shed cleanses our sins. He leads us now to make the Passover through dying to sin and living in him. 

__________________________________________________

PRAY THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

Begin with the Jesus Prayer. Pray it reflectively several times, for yourself or on behalf of another. 

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Then pray the day’s prayer slowly and repeatedly for at least a minute (that’s about seven times). Allow the prayer to take you into the meaning of the day’s facet of Jesus’ name. Pray it for yourself and/or on behalf of another. Take your time and trust this process!

Lord Jesus Christ, Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, grant us your peace. 

__________________________________________________

LIVE INTO THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

He has granted to us his precious and very great promises, 
so that through them you might become partakers of his divine
nature . . . For this very reason, supplement your faith with
virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness,
brotherly affection and love (2 Peter 1: 4-7).

1 PETER 1: 13-21
Therefore, preparing your minds for action . . . set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ . . . Conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.
 
CONSIDER
How is Communion related to the Passover? When next you partake, consider the Lord’s Supper as a celebration of being joined to Christ our Passover Lamb.
 
Close by joining your prayers to those of Christina Rossetti:
 
None other Lamb, none other name,
None other hope in heaven or earth or sea,
None other hiding place from guilt or shame,
None besides thee!
 
My faith burns low, my hope burns low;
Only my heart’s desire cries out in me
By the deep thunder of its want and woe,
Cries out to thee.
 
Lord, thou art Life, though I be dead;
Love’s fire thou art, however cold I be;
Nor heaven have I, nor place to lay my head,
Nor home, but thee.
 
Christina Rossetti, 1870.

LISTEN TO TODAY'S POEM

Day 37, Monday (April 15) - Living into His Name

THE COMING KING

The Living One
Day 37   Monday

__________________________________________________

EXPLORE THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST

For us there is one God, the Father,
from whom are all things and for whom we exist,
and one Lord, Jesus Christ, 
through whom are all things and through whom we exist (1 Corinthians 8: 6).

REVELATION 1: 17-18
When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.
 
CONSIDER
John, the writer of Revelation, had a vision in which he saw the ascended Jesus. The glory of Christ overwhelmed him. But this same Jesus assured him that precisely because of his Lordship, John need not fear.
 
Jesus has undertaken the hero’s journey on behalf of his people. English poet Christina Rossetti imagined Jesus asking us:
 
“Who else has dared for thee what I have dared?
I plunged the depth most deep from bliss above.”
 
Jesus died and entered the realm of the dead. He disappeared into what Shakespeare called “the undiscovered country,” the dark realm from which no one returns.
 
In his despair, Job asked what he thought was a rhetorical question which could only be answered forever as a No: “If a man dies, shall he live again?” (Job 14: 14). 
 
It seemed that Jesus had met that same fate. His words read literally, “Behold, I became dead.” That was his full identity following the cross. But not the final word. Countermanding all human loss and reversing the endless flow of mortality, the resurrected Jesus declared, “I am alive forevermore. I hold the keys of Death and Hades in my hands.”  
 
As we noted when we studied the Key of David, keys represent authority. Jesus the living one is now Lord of both death and life. He is, in Greek, the zoan, the Living One. By faith we get into the zoan of life!

__________________________________________________

PRAY THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

Begin with the Jesus Prayer. Pray it reflectively several times, for yourself or on behalf of another. 

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Then pray the day’s prayer slowly and repeatedly for at least a minute (that’s about seven times). Allow the prayer to take you into the meaning of the day’s facet of Jesus’ name. Pray it for yourself and/or on behalf of another. Take your time and trust this process!

Lord Jesus Christ, Living One, you died and yet behold, you are alive forevermore! You who hold the keys to Death and Hades, grant me peace 
and courage for these days. 

__________________________________________________

LIVE INTO THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

He has granted to us his precious and very great promises, 
so that through them you might become partakers of his divine
nature . . . For this very reason, supplement your faith with
virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness,
brotherly affection and love (2 Peter 1: 4-7).

2 CORINTHIANS 5: 14-15
For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.
 
CONSIDER
The death and resurrection of Jesus were unique events in his history among us. Yet, we spiritually participate in his dying and rising. The benefits of his journey are given to us! One day we will participate physically in our natural dying and in our supernatural rising to everlasting embodied life. 
 
For these days on earth, we are to live dying to the old life and living for the new life in Christ.
 
Paul sums up Jesus the Living One’s purpose applied to us when he says that believers should “no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”
 
The Living One is our motivation and our power, our reason and our hope for living for his sake and according to his way, even amidst inertia, resistance, exhaustion and persecution.
 
Close by singing these triumphant words, written to match the same tune as the Christmas carol, “Angels from the Realms of Glory.”
 
Rise, O church, and lift your voices, Christ has conquered death and hell.
Sing as all the earth rejoices; resurrection anthems swell.
Come and worship, come and worship, worship Christ, the risen King!
 
See the tomb where death had laid him, empty now, its mouth declares;
“Death and I could not contain him, for the Throne of Life he shares.”
Come and worship, come and worship, worship Christ, the risen King!
 
We acclaim your life, O Jesus, now we sing your victory;
Sin or hell may seek to seize us but your conquest keeps us free.
Stand in triumph, stand in triumph, worship Christ, the risen King!
 
Jack Hayforth. Worship Christ the Risen King. 1986.

LISTEN TO TODAY'S HYMN

Day 36, Sunday (April 14) - Living into His Name

THE COMING KING

We noted last week, that renderings of Christ as Pantocrator, ruler of all things, appear frequently on the high domes or ceilings of ancient churches. The Jesus we see appears kingly and full of authority.
 
But in the vault of another Ravenna church, we see a different depiction of our sovereign Jesus. The Basilica of San Vitale placed a mosaic of a lamb atop its vault. But this is no meek lamb. It stands strongly, and has a golden halo indicating divinity. Four angelic beings lift up their hands to hold the circle in which the lamb stands from every direction. We are reminded of the worship around the throne of God recorded in Revelation.
 
In his vision of heaven, John saw “a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain” and angelic beings sing the praise of the Lamb, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Rev. 5: 6, 12). The God who reigns is the Lamb who gave his life to take away our sins.
 
And, this Lamb will return to the earth to set all things right. He has a future in store for us, “For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Rev. 7: 17). This week, we seek to live into the names of the reigning Jesus, the Lamb of God, who will soon return to this world. 
 

The Alpha and the Omega
Day 36   Sunday

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EXPLORE THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

For us there is one God, the Father,
from whom are all things and for whom we exist,
and one Lord, Jesus Christ, 
through whom are all things and through whom we exist (1 Corinthians 8: 6).

REVELATION 1: 8
“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” 
 
REVELATION 21: 5-8
And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”
 
REVELATION 22: 12-14
“Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”
 
Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates.
 
CONSIDER
The letters Alpha and Omega are the first and last in the Greek alphabet. This title for Jesus is similar to Hebrews 12: 2 in which he is the author and perfecter of our faith. It means that Jesus is the origin and destination of all creation. But more, it means that the Triune God is without origin and without end. He is before all. He is eternal. This is the Son of God who stepped into time to take up our humanity.
 
As you look over these three passages about the Alpha and Omega, consider how these passages describe the future for those who resist Christ Jesus. Both human pride and the power of evil act as if their power will go on forever. But how does Jesus claim he will bring such hubris to an end?
 
How do these passages describe the future for those who are in Christ? Identify at least three promises made to us.
 
__________________________________________________

PRAY THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

Begin with the Jesus Prayer. Pray it reflectively several times, for yourself or on behalf of another. 

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Then pray the day’s prayer slowly and repeatedly for at least a minute (that’s about seven times). Allow the prayer to take you into the meaning of the day’s facet of Jesus’ name. Pray it for yourself and/or on behalf of another. Take your time and trust this process!

Lord Jesus Christ, Alpha and Omega, beginning and end, first and last, you have the whole world in your hands and I find my life only in yours.
__________________________________________________

LIVE INTO THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

He has granted to us his precious and very great promises, 
so that through them you might become partakers of his divine
nature . . . For this very reason, supplement your faith with
virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness,
brotherly affection and love (2 Peter 1: 4-7). 

ROMANS 13: 10-14
Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.  Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
 
CONSIDER
As Paul draws his magnificent letter to the Roman church to a close, he turns from soaring doctrine to practical living. Because we know Jesus is the source and the destination, the Alpha and Omega, we are called to live a certain way.
Identify at least three behaviors we are to take off and three we are to put on. 
 
Consider today the plans you had for providing for your sinful flesh and ask for strength to nix those strategies.
 
Close by singing this beloved hymn (to either famous tune!):
 
Love divine, all loves excelling,
Joy of heaven to earth come down;
Fix in us thy humbling dwelling, 
All thy faithful mercies crown.
Jesus, thou art all compassion, 
Pure unbounded love thou art;
Visit us with thy salvation,
Enter every trembling heart.
 
Breathe, O breathe thy loving Spirit
Into every troubled breast!
Let us all in thee inherit, 
Let us find that promised rest.
Take away our bent to sinning, 
Alpha and Omega be;
End of faith, as its beginning, 
Set our hearts at liberty.
 
Charles Wesley. Love Divine, All Loves Excelling. 1747.
 
 

Day 35, Saturday (April 13) - Living into His Name

NAME ABOVE ALL NAMES

Name Above All Names
Day 35   Saturday

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EXPLORE THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST

For us there is one God, the Father,
from whom are all things and for whom we exist,
and one Lord, Jesus Christ, 
through whom are all things and through whom we exist (1 Corinthians 8: 6).

PHILIPPIANS 2: 5-11
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
 
CONSIDER
Re-reading this passage, trace the journey of Jesus which Paul describes. Where did Jesus start? What five things does Paul name as part of Christ’s obedience? What was the surprising final destination? What future does the name of Jesus have in the universe?
 
How can a name command the power to cause us to kneel?
 
How much of the cosmos will ultimately confess his Lordship? What effect does that reality have on how you think and live today?

__________________________________________________

PRAY THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

Begin with the Jesus Prayer. Pray it reflectively several times, for yourself or on behalf of another. 

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Then pray the day’s prayer slowly and repeatedly for at least a minute (that’s about seven times). Allow the prayer to take you into the meaning of the day’s facet of Jesus’ name. Pray it for yourself and/or on behalf of another. Take your time and trust this process!

Lord Jesus Christ, Name above all names, before you every knee will bow, and this day I confess you as Lord and bow my heart to you.

__________________________________________________

LIVE INTO THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

He has granted to us his precious and very great promises, 
so that through them you might become partakers of his divine
nature . . . For this very reason, supplement your faith with
virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness,
brotherly affection and love (2 Peter 1: 4-7).

PHILIPPIANS  2: 12-16
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.
 
CONSIDER
Paul follows his great hymn to the name of Jesus with this very practical passage about our daily response to his Lordship.
 
What is the relationship between our work and God’s work at the end of the first sentence?
 
Steve Childers has noted, “We work as God works in us. God works in us as we work for him.” What are the characteristics of someone living in the bicycle pedal like tandem of God’s work and our work?
 
What is the missional power in the dark world created by the way those who confess the name of Jesus live?
 
Close by singing this glorious and famous song:
 
All the hail power of Jesus’ name!
Let angels prostrate fall;
Bring forth the royal diadem, 
And crown him Lord of all.
 
Ye chosen seed of Israel’s race,
Ye ransomed from the fall,
Hail him who saves you by his grace,
And crown him Lord of all.
 
Let every kindred, every tribe,
On this terrestrial ball,
To him all majesty ascribe
And crown him Lord of all.
 
Edward Perronet. All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name. 1779.

LISTEN TO TODAY'S HYMN

Day 34, Friday (April 12) - Living into His Name

NAME ABOVE ALL NAMES

Savior
Day 34   Friday

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EXPLORE THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST

For us there is one God, the Father,
from whom are all things and for whom we exist,
and one Lord, Jesus Christ, 
through whom are all things and through whom we exist (1 Corinthians 8: 6).

LUKE 2: 11
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ
the Lord. 
 
1 JOHN 4: 14
And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world
 
2 TIMOTHY 1: 8-10
Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.
 
CONSIDER
On Day 1 we explored that Jesus’ very name means “The LORD saves.” Today we will look at a related name. Jesus is Savior.
 
In the first century, Caesar Augustus claimed for himself the title “The Savior of the World.” What edge does that fact give to the angel proclamation in Luke 2 about the baby born in a manger? What challenge to the way of the world might 1 John 4 have been offering?
 
In the last sentence of this passage from Paul’s letter to Timothy, what does he claim that Jesus has done in his role of Savior? 
 
In this same passage, when does Paul say our Savior first acted toward us? So what is past, what is present and what is future about our Savior’s work?
 
What does it do for your sense of this day to know that you have been given Christ’s own purpose and grace from before the world was made?
 
What does it say to the challenges you face to know that in Christ death has already been abolished?

__________________________________________________

PRAY THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

Begin with the Jesus Prayer. Pray it reflectively several times, for yourself or on behalf of another. 

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Then pray the day’s prayer slowly and repeatedly for at least a minute (that’s about seven times). Allow the prayer to take you into the meaning of the day’s facet of Jesus’ name. Pray it for yourself and/or on behalf of another. Take your time and trust this process!

Lord Jesus Christ, who came into the world to save sinners,
of whom I am the foremost, have mercy on me.

__________________________________________________

LIVE INTO THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

He has granted to us his precious and very great promises, 
so that through them you might become partakers of his divine
nature . . . For this very reason, supplement your faith with
virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness,
brotherly affection and love (2 Peter 1: 4-7).

2 TIMOTHY 1: 13-14
Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.
 
2 PETER 3: 18
But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.
 
CONSIDER 
Though we are already saved by our Savior, what urgent tasks do these passages lay upon us? By what power does Paul tell Timothy we can do these things? Will you call upon the Spirit right now to guard the good deposit of the gospel within you and grow the seed into maturity?
 
Close by singing this famous hymn of dependence on our Savior:
 
Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in thee;
Let the water and the blood, from thy riven side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure, cleanse me from its guilt and power.
 
Not the labors of my hands can fulfill thy law’s demands;
Could my zeal no respite know, could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone; thou must save and thou alone.
 
Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to thee for dress, helpless, look to thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly, wash me Savior, or I die!
 
While I draw this fleeting breath, when mine eyelids close in death,
When I soar to worlds unknown, see thee on thy judgment throne,
Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in thee.
 
Augustus Toplady. Rock of Ages. 1776.

LISTEN TO TODAY'S HYMN

Day 33, Thursday (April 11) - Living into His Name

NAME ABOVE ALL NAMES

The Cornerstone
Day 33   Thursday

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EXPLORE THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST

For us there is one God, the Father,
from whom are all things and for whom we exist,
and one Lord, Jesus Christ, 
through whom are all things and through whom we exist (1 Corinthians 8: 6).

ACTS 4: 10-12
“Let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well. This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
 
EPHESIANS 2: 19-22
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
 
CONSIDER
Psalm 118 recounts the struggles of one who came near to dying by the attack of strong enemies. But the LORD answered his prayer and provided salvation. During his praise for the LORD’s deliverance, the psalmist noted the wonderful irony: “The stone that the builder’s rejected has become the cornerstone. This is the LORD’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” (Ps. 118: 22-24).
 
The first Christians saw in this psalm a foreshadowing of Jesus. He was rejected by his own people, condemned by the handlers of God’s Word as dangerous and blasphemous. But in raising Jesus, the Father countermanded the verdict of humanity against Jesus. He took the rejected stone and made it the foundation of a new building: his living temple, the church. Each new believer becomes a new stone in Christ’s ever growing building, a “house” that ever resounds in praise!

__________________________________________________

PRAY THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

Begin with the Jesus Prayer. Pray it reflectively several times, for yourself or on behalf of another. 

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Then pray the day’s prayer slowly and repeatedly for at least a minute (that’s about seven times). Allow the prayer to take you into the meaning of the day’s facet of Jesus’ name. Pray it for yourself and/or on behalf of another. Take your time and trust this process!

Lord Jesus Christ, rejected by men, but chosen by your Father to be the 
Cornerstone, grant me to build my life on you alone.

__________________________________________________

LIVE INTO THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

He has granted to us his precious and very great promises, 
so that through them you might become partakers of his divine
nature . . . For this very reason, supplement your faith with
virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness,
brotherly affection and love (2 Peter 1: 4-7).

1 PETER 2: 4-5, 9-12
As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. . . .
 
. . . you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 
 
Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.
 
CONSIDER
In what way is Christ’s spiritual house, the church, heavenly? In what way is it earthly? Think of this upside down picture: our foundation stone is not below us but above us, because Christ our cornerstone is in heaven!
 
What’s the connection between “offering spiritual sacrifices” and “proclaiming the excellencies of him who called” us?
 
How important is it to the lost world that we live on earth as sojourners passing through, not permanent residents?
 
How is the beauty and stability of a well-made house a picture of how Christ’s temple, the church, should fit together? 
 
Close by singing these verses from this famous hymn,
 
Christ is made the sure foundation,
Christ the head and cornerstone,
Chosen of the Lord and precious,
Binding all the church in one;
Holy Zion’s help forever, and her confidence alone.
 
To this temple, where we call thee,
Come, O Lord of hosts, today:
With thy wonted lovingkindness
Hear thy people as they pray,
And thy fullest benediction,
Shed within its walls alway.
 
Anonymous. Christ Is Made the Sure Foundation. 7th c. Latin prayer,
trans. John Mason Neale. 1851.

LISTEN TO TODAY'S HYMN

Day 32, Wednesday (April 10) - Living into His Name

NAME ABOVE ALL NAMES

First Born and Heir
Day 32   Wednesday

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EXPLORE THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST

For us there is one God, the Father,
from whom are all things and for whom we exist,
and one Lord, Jesus Christ, 
through whom are all things and through whom we exist (1 Corinthians 8: 6).

COLOSSIANS 1: 15b, 18
He is the firstborn of all creation. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 
 
REVELATION 1: 4b-5a
Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.
 
HEBREWS 1: 2
 . . . Whom he appointed the heir of all things.
 
CONSIDER
In ancient Israel, the firstborn son was the principle heir in a family, inheriting a double portion from his father. The firstborn had privileges and responsibilities related to carrying on the family, the land and the well-being of his people. 
 
Today we see that Jesus is the Father’s heir (even though, of course, the Father will never die!). This means the Father loves the Son and has given him all he has. 
 
As we have seen, the eternal Son was not a creation. But when he entered our world in flesh and blood as a man, he became the firstborn of all creation, the preeminent one. When he rose from the dead as a resurrected man, he became the firstborn of all those who would rise to eternal life in him. Jesus has first place in glory. Jesus the God/man is first in all creation and first in life out of death.
 
The Father even gave us to his Son as a love gift. And the Son has returned us, now redeemed, to his Father as a love gift in return! (John 17: 6-9). So we are swept up in glory when we participate in letting Jesus be first, of all.

__________________________________________________

PRAY THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

Begin with the Jesus Prayer. Pray it reflectively several times, for yourself or on behalf of another. 

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Then pray the day’s prayer slowly and repeatedly for at least a minute (that’s about seven times). Allow the prayer to take you into the meaning of the day’s facet of Jesus’ name. Pray it for yourself and/or on behalf of another. Take your time and trust this process!

Lord Jesus Christ, First Born from the dead, Heir of all things,
unite me to you, that I might die to self and live to you.  

__________________________________________________

LIVE INTO THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

He has granted to us his precious and very great promises, 
so that through them you might become partakers of his divine
nature . . . For this very reason, supplement your faith with
virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness,
brotherly affection and love (2 Peter 1: 4-7).

TITUS 3: 3-8
For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people.
 
CONSIDER
We adopted children have been written into the will! We will share all that the firstborn, begotten Son of God has in eternity. When the day of consummation comes, Christ Jesus will be hailed as the heir and firstborn. And he will share that glory with brothers and sisters. We are called to live now not with an orphan mentality but as privileged heirs. To live not fearing scarcity but assured of abundance. To face suffering confident of the future he has promised. To engage loss not in despair but in trust of restoration and resurrection. To live not deceived by the world’s vainglory but faithfully entrusting ourselves to the path of the savior through suffering to eternal glory in God. 
 
Close in prayer using words from this hymn by Martin Luther:
 
Christ Jesus lay in death’s strong bands, for our offenses given;
But now at God’s right hand he stands and brings us life from heaven;
Therefore let us joyful be and sing to God right thankfully
Loud songs of hallelujah. Hallelujah!
 
It was a strange and dreadful strife when life and death contended;
The victory remained with life, the reign of death was ended;
Holy Scripture plainly saith that death is swallowed up by death,
His sting is lost forever. Hallelujah!
 
Martin Luther. Christ Jesus Lay in Death’s Strong Bands, adapting
the medieval prayer called Exultet. 1524. 

LISTEN TO TODAY'S HYMN

Day 31, Tuesday (April 9) - Living into His Name

NAME ABOVE ALL NAMES

Radiance of Glory
Day 31   Tuesday

__________________________________________________

EXPLORE THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST

For us there is one God, the Father,
from whom are all things and for whom we exist,
and one Lord, Jesus Christ, 
through whom are all things and through whom we exist (1 Corinthians 8: 6).

HEBREWS 1: 1-3
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.
 
COLOSSIANS 1: 15a, 19
He is the image of the invisible God. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.
 
JOHN 5: 19-20
So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel.
 
CONSIDER
Jesus told Phillip, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father” (John 14: 9). We see the invisible God made visible in Jesus. To look directly upon God would be to die (Exodus 33: 20). For we would be incinerated with a glory that dwarfs the sun. But in taking up our human form, Jesus showed the glory and truth of God in a way we could bear to see. Jesus radiated the glory of God truly. God is none other than what he is to us in Jesus Christ. But Jesus represented God’s reality in a way we could apprehend.
 
Paul said that Jesus is the icon, the very image, of God. The fullness of God dwells in Jesus in bodily form.
 
This great mystery is meant to inspire our worship and assure us that we may trust wholeheartedly that all we need to know about the eternal Triune God can be found in Jesus Christ.

__________________________________________________

PRAY THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

Begin with the Jesus Prayer. Pray it reflectively several times, for yourself or on behalf of another. 

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Then pray the day’s prayer slowly and repeatedly for at least a minute (that’s about seven times). Allow the prayer to take you into the meaning of the day’s facet of Jesus’ name. Pray it for yourself and/or on behalf of another. Take your time and trust this process!

Lord Jesus Christ, perfect Radiance of your Father,
shine on me and shine in me, that I may reflect your glory. 

__________________________________________________

LIVE INTO THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

He has granted to us his precious and very great promises, 
so that through them you might become partakers of his divine
nature . . . For this very reason, supplement your faith with
virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness,
brotherly affection and love (2 Peter 1: 4-7).

2 CORINTHIANS 3: 16-18
But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
 
CONSIDER
It takes a miraculous work of the Spirit to open the eyes of our heart to see that Jesus is indeed God come among us. But once we do, gazing on the glory of God in Jesus transforms us to be like him. We become like that which we look steadily upon. That’s why we’re doing this study! So we can look daily upon Jesus in his majesty. 
 
Are there any places you gaze too much, which deflect you from looking at Jesus: The mirror? Internet sites? The success of others? Turn your eyes upon Jesus this day. Look full in his wonderful face!
 
Close by praying this hymn:
 
Jesus, you are the radiance
Of the Father’s glory.
You are the Son, the appointed heir,
Through whom all things are made.
You are the one who sustains all things
By your powerful word.
You have purified us from sin,
You are exalted, O Lord,
To the right hand of God.
Crowned with glory,
Crowned with honour
We worship you.
 
Scriptural words adapted by David Fellingham. Jesus You Are the Radiance. 1985.

LISTEN TO TODAY'S HYMN

Day 30, Monday (April 8) - Living into His Name

NAME ABOVE ALL NAMES

Only Begotten Son
Day 30   Monday

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EXPLORE THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST

For us there is one God, the Father,
from whom are all things and for whom we exist,
and one Lord, Jesus Christ, 
through whom are all things and through whom we exist (1 Corinthians 8: 6).

JOHN 1: 14, 18 (NEW KING JAMES VERSION) 
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. 
 
No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has declared him. 
 
JOHN 3: 16 (NEW KING JAMES VERSION)
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
 
ROMANS 8:32
He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?
 
CONSIDER
In the Apostles’ Creed we affirm that we believe “in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son our Lord.” Jesus is the Son of God in a unique way. He is eternally the Son. We are created beings. Once we were not in existence, now we are. Once we were not God’s children, but then he recreated us in Christ. But Jesus has always been God’s Son.  
 
The Son was not created. He was, as the Nicene Creed declares, “begotten not made.” We humans make objects by using our intelligence and craft to bring forth instruments, art, stories or houses. But these are not us. However, we “beget” children. Because what comes from the union of man and woman is human; the child is literally one of us. 
 
The mystery of our God is that from before time he was ever a God in relationship. He was, and is, and always will be love. Love means relationship and always there was the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit in loving glory.
 
In the fullness of time, God sent forth the eternal Son into our world. The Son of God became as well a son of Adam. Jesus is uniquely God’s Son. And so Jesus alone can truly show us who the invisible God really is.  
 
When we consider the unique intimacy of the relationship between the Father and the Son, we stagger to consider that the Father spared not his own Son for us. As T. F. Torrance has said, “In Jesus we see that God loves us more even than he loves himself!” 

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PRAY THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

Begin with the Jesus Prayer. Pray it reflectively several times, for yourself or on behalf of another. 

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Then pray the day’s prayer slowly and repeatedly for at least a minute (that’s about seven times). Allow the prayer to take you into the meaning of the day’s facet of Jesus’ name. Pray it for yourself and/or on behalf of another. Take your time and trust this process!

Lord Jesus Christ, only Begotten Son of the Father,
cause me to be born again in you, from the despair of sin to a living hope.

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LIVE INTO THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

He has granted to us his precious and very great promises, 
so that through them you might become partakers of his divine
nature . . . For this very reason, supplement your faith with
virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness,
brotherly affection and love (2 Peter 1: 4-7).

JOHN 1: 12-13
But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
 
1 PETER 1: 22-23
Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.
 
CONSIDER
By the gift of the only begotten Son, we can be adopted as children of God. And it’s more than a legal adoption: we receive the Spirit of sonship in our hearts (Rom. 8: 15). We get made new, taken into the eternal relationship of love that is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
 
This makes Christianity so much more than an ethic for living. And Jesus is so much more than a teacher to follow. We proclaim a mystic union between Christ and his people, by which we are born anew as sons and daughters in Christ. 
 
Close by singing two more verses from “Of the Father’s Love Begotten,”
 
O ye heights of heaven adore him; angel hosts his praises sing;
Powers, dominions, bow before him, and extol our God and king;
Let no tongue on earth be silent, every voice in concert ring,
Evermore and evermore!
 
Christ, to thee with God the Father, and, O Holy Ghost, to thee,
Hymn and chant and high thanksgiving and unwearied praises be:
Honor, glory, and dominion, and eternal victory.
Evermore and evermore!
 
Aurelius Prudentius, AD 400, trans. John Mason Neale. Of the Father’s 
Love Begotten. 1854.

LISTEN TO TODAY'S HYMN

Day 29, Sunday (April 7) - Living into His Name

NAME ABOVE ALL NAMES

Unique among religions, we worship a God who emptied himself of all privilege and power to come among us an ordinary man. Paul says he “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant . . . becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2: 7-8). Jesus was abused and abased for our sake. But the Father did not leave him in such a state: “God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name” (Phil. 2: 9). So now Jesus is the Lord of all the cosmos. The infant in the manger, the man tortured on the cross, is revealed as the Ruler of all things. He is exalted on high. 
 
This week’s mosaic depicts Christ as Pantocrator, the ruler of all things, things “in heaven and on earth and under the earth” (Phil. 2: 10). Often in Christian art, a painting of Christ Pantocrator is found in the center of the high ceiling or dome of a church. The congregation feels how Jesus is ruling over all. 
 
Our image, however, is from the side of the long sanctuary of S. Apollinare Nuovo. It faces the image of the infant Jesus on Mary’s lap that we studied in week one. The incarnate God and the reigning King look across to each other. Jesus’ beginning among us and his final destiny embrace the congregation. We live contained in the story between Jesus’ birth and his exaltation. 
 
The row of mosaics on this side of the church depict those who gave their life in martyrdom making their way to cast their crowns before the true King. Each one streams to the throne to acknowledge the Name above all names.
 
This week we explore the most exalted titles for Jesus given to him in the New Testament. Taking these names on our lips, reaching upward with them in our minds, and letting them take root deep in our hearts will lift us up as we exalt Jesus.
 

My God!
Day 29   Sunday

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EXPLORE THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

For us there is one God, the Father,
from whom are all things and for whom we exist,
and one Lord, Jesus Christ, 
through whom are all things and through whom we exist (1 Corinthians 8: 6).

JOHN 20: 24-29
Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” 
 
Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
 
2 PETER 1: 1
Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ. . . . 
 
CONSIDER
We call him “Doubting Thomas,” but that does him a disservice. Thomas, once he saw the resurrected Jesus, spoke the most exultant words of faith yet uttered about Jesus: “My Lord and my God!” Thomas got down to the heart of it. The man who got up from the dead is Lord of all. The man who defeated death and the devil is God.
 
The earliest Christians worshiped Jesus as divine. Though it would have been blasphemy for Jews to give such devotion to a mere man, they felt compelled. Though it would have seemed absurd to the Greek culture around them that flesh and blood could be given the place of exaltation, Jesus’ disciples could not withhold their worship.   
 
Thomas said it as clearly and passionately as any ever could. Peter echoed it in the opening of his letter, too. This is our bottom line affirmation. Beholding Jesus crucified and risen we cry out, “My Lord and my God!”
 
__________________________________________________

PRAY THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

Begin with the Jesus Prayer. Pray it reflectively several times, for yourself or on behalf of another. 

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Then pray the day’s prayer slowly and repeatedly for at least a minute (that’s about seven times). Allow the prayer to take you into the meaning of the day’s facet of Jesus’ name. Pray it for yourself and/or on behalf of another. Take your time and trust this process!

Lord Jesus Christ, my Lord and my God, I am yours, and yours alone.

__________________________________________________

LIVE INTO THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

He has granted to us his precious and very great promises, 
so that through them you might become partakers of his divine
nature . . . For this very reason, supplement your faith with
virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness,
brotherly affection and love (2 Peter 1: 4-7). 

TITUS 2: 11-14
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
 
CONSIDER
Paul also heartily affirmed that Jesus is God. He rejoiced that “our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” appeared in the world. He showed up on the world stage.
 
To redeem us from the old life and start in us a new life as a people passionate to do good works for God in thanksgiving for his salvation. How will you live this passion of new life today?
 
Close by singing these verses from this beloved hymn, 
 
Fairest Lord Jesus, Ruler of all nature,
O thou of God and Man the Son: Thee will I cherish,
Thee will I honor, my soul’s glory, joy and crown.
 
Beautiful Savior! Lord of the nations!
Son of God and Son of Man! Glory and honor,
Praise, adoration, now and forever more be thine.
 
Anonymous. Fairest Lord Jesus. 17th c. German Hymn.
 
 
 

Day 28, Saturday (April 6) - Living into His Name

A PRESENT AND ACTIVE SAVIOR

The Last Adam
Day 28   Saturday

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EXPLORE THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST

For us there is one God, the Father,
from whom are all things and for whom we exist,
and one Lord, Jesus Christ, 
through whom are all things and through whom we exist (1 Corinthians 8: 6).

ROMANS 5: 15-17
But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.
 
1 CORINTHIANS 15: 20-26; 45-49; 58
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
 
Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.
 
Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
 
CONSIDER
Jesus is the new Adam. He is the re-start of the human race. He is a new kind of human. No longer subject to death. Outfitted for an eternal embodied life in the presence of his Father. The new Adam is not weighed down by sin and mortal frailty.  
 
So when we are in Christ, we are new creations (2 Cor. 5: 17). We participate in his renewed humanity. We get transferred from being identified solely by the old Adam, prone to sin and condemned to die. We find our identity in the new Adam, Jesus, humanity perfected.

__________________________________________________

PRAY THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

Begin with the Jesus Prayer. Pray it reflectively several times, for yourself or on behalf of another. 

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Then pray the day’s prayer slowly and repeatedly for at least a minute (that’s about seven times). Allow the prayer to take you into the meaning of the day’s facet of Jesus’ name. Pray it for yourself and/or on behalf of another. Take your time and trust this process!

Lord Jesus Christ, Last Adam, clasp me by the heart’s hand, 
and join me to humanity made new in you. 

__________________________________________________

LIVE INTO THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

He has granted to us his precious and very great promises, 
so that through them you might become partakers of his divine
nature . . . For this very reason, supplement your faith with
virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness,
brotherly affection and love (2 Peter 1: 4-7).

EPHESIANS 4: 21-24 (NEW KING JAMES VERSION)
If indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.
 
CONSIDER
Jesus is the new Adam. We are in Christ. Our task now is to choose daily, hourly, to live from the new man, to draw from the One who renews us in himself. This involves consciously dying to the lusts of the old man and deliberately choosing to live both from and for the last Adam, even Jesus.
 
Close by singing these verses from Isaac Watts’ classic hymn, 
 
Jesus shall reign, where’er the sun
Does his successive journeys run;
His kingdom spread from shore to shore,
Till moons shall wax and wane no more.
 
Where he displays his healing power,
Death and the curse are known no more;
In him the tribes of Adam boast
More blessings than their father lost.
 
Let every creature rise and bring
Peculiar honors to our King,
Angels descend with songs again,
And earth repeat the loud amen!
 
Isaac Watts. Jesus Shall Reign. 1719.

LISTEN TO TODAY'S HYMN

Day 27, Friday (April 5) - Living into His Name

A PRESENT AND ACTIVE SAVIOR

Founder and Perfecter of Faith
Day 27   Friday

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EXPLORE THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST

For us there is one God, the Father,
from whom are all things and for whom we exist,
and one Lord, Jesus Christ, 
through whom are all things and through whom we exist (1 Corinthians 8: 6).

HEBREWS 12: 1-4
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. 
 
Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 
 
HEBREWS 12: 7-8
It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.
 
CONSIDER
Another great title for Jesus from Hebrews is the “founder and perfecter” of our faith. Jesus is the author and completion, the initiator and the finisher, the start and the goal, the first one out of the blocks and the last one to kick the race home. His work encompasses our lives. 
 
Jesus has already run the course of faithful human living. He plowed through suffering, temptation and even unjust rejection and ultimate condemnation, never losing faith.  
 
Whatever stage of the human “race” we are in, we know that Jesus has gone before us. We draw from his victory. We trust that he will get us safely home. In the meantime, we can view our trials as creating maturity and deepening faith in us. We can see them as the necessary training, or discipline, that a loving parent provides a beloved son.

__________________________________________________

PRAY THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

Begin with the Jesus Prayer. Pray it reflectively several times, for yourself or on behalf of another. 

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Then pray the day’s prayer slowly and repeatedly for at least a minute (that’s about seven times). Allow the prayer to take you into the meaning of the day’s facet of Jesus’ name. Pray it for yourself and/or on behalf of another. Take your time and trust this process!

Lord Jesus Christ, Founder and Perfecter of faith, you began human 
faithfulness by your obedience, now perfect your salvation in me. 

__________________________________________________

LIVE INTO THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

He has granted to us his precious and very great promises, 
so that through them you might become partakers of his divine
nature . . . For this very reason, supplement your faith with
virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness,
brotherly affection and love (2 Peter 1: 4-7).

HEBREWS 12: 11-15
For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble. 
 
CONSIDER
Take some time to consider the difficulties you face in this stage of your life’s course. Consider Jesus who endured suffering and powered faithfully through even the cross. Ask him to strengthen your weary soul and body for the day ahead. Ask him to make even this seemingly senseless suffering become the discipline that deepens your sense of sonship. Draw strength as well from those faithful Christians who have gone before you and run their race to the finish.
 
Close by singing these verses from an ancient hymn,
 
Christ is made the sure foundation, Christ the head and cornerstone,
Chosen of the Lord and precious, binding all the church in one, 
Holy Zion’s help forever, and her confidence alone.
 
Laud and honor to the Father, laud and honor to the Son,
Laud and honor to the Spirit, ever three and ever One,
One in might, and One in glory, while unending ages run.
 
Anonymous. Christ Is Made the Sure Foundation. 7th c. Latin prayer,
trans. John Mason Neale. 1851.

LISTEN TO TODAY'S HYMN

Day 26, Thursday (April 4) - Living into His Name

A PRESENT AND ACTIVE SAVIOR

Our High Priest
Day 26   Thursday

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EXPLORE THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST

For us there is one God, the Father,
from whom are all things and for whom we exist,
and one Lord, Jesus Christ, 
through whom are all things and through whom we exist (1 Corinthians 8: 6).

HEBREWS 2: 17-18
Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
 
HEBREWS 4: 14-16
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
 
HEBREWS 10: 11-14
And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.
 
CONSIDER
The role of the high priest in ancient Israel was to offer the sacrifice of atonement. Wearing a breastplate on which was engraved the names of the 12 tribes of Israel, he entered the Holy of holies representing all the people. The sacrifice had to be offered once a year, for it was only symbolic of the hope of God’s mercy. Jesus made a perfect sacrifice that needs never to be repeated. He acted as both the priest and the offering, sacrificing his own blood for our sins.
 
Jesus’ priesthood continues as he prays for us, ever applying his forgiveness to our sins and ever offering us, by the Spirit, his righteousness to transform us.  
 
Hebrews notes that because of his humanity, and the temptations he faced throughout his days with us, Jesus is not aloof, but sympathetic to the trials we face.

__________________________________________________

PRAY THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

Begin with the Jesus Prayer. Pray it reflectively several times, for yourself or on behalf of another. 

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Then pray the day’s prayer slowly and repeatedly for at least a minute (that’s about seven times). Allow the prayer to take you into the meaning of the day’s facet of Jesus’ name. Pray it for yourself and/or on behalf of another. Take your time and trust this process!

Lord Jesus Christ, great High Priest, 
who offered yourself a perfect sacrifice, intercede for me even now.

__________________________________________________

LIVE INTO THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

He has granted to us his precious and very great promises, 
so that through them you might become partakers of his divine
nature . . . For this very reason, supplement your faith with
virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness,
brotherly affection and love (2 Peter 1: 4-7).

HEBREWS 10: 19-25
Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
 
CONSIDER
Hebrews urges us to draw near to God with full assurance. Our great high priest has provided a new and living way to God. He stands as our guarantee of acceptance before God. Thus we take courage and give courage to one another.
 
Explore this assurance as you close by singing this verse, 
 
Before the throne of God above,
I have a strong and perfect plea,
A great High Priest whose name is love,
Whoever lives and pleads for me.
My name is graven on his hands;
My name is written on his heart.
I know that while in heaven he stands,
No tongue can bid me thence depart. 
 
Charitie L. Bancroft. Before the Throne of God Above. 1863.

LISTEN TO TODAY'S HYMN

Day 24, Tuesday (April 2) - Living into His Name

A PRESENT AND ACTIVE SAVIOR

Atonement and Propitiation
Day 24   Tuesday

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EXPLORE THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST

For us there is one God, the Father,
from whom are all things and for whom we exist,
and one Lord, Jesus Christ, 
through whom are all things and through whom we exist (1 Corinthians 8: 6).

ROMANS 3: 23-25
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.
 
1 JOHN 2: 1-2
My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but for the sins of the whole world.
 
EPHESIANS 2: 13-19
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.
 
CONSIDER
Propitiate is not a word we use very often. But we actually all do it! When a husband brings home flowers after he has disappointed his wife, he’s making propitiation: turning aside anger and making peace. 
 
God has wrath against sin. Because sin destroys, diminishes, maims and kills the creation he loves. Our sin has caused incalculable harm to one another. And God takes that personally. Not because he is over-sensitive like some bully.
But because he is eternally invested in his creation. 
 
The kindling of wrath goes with making a free creation that could, and did, choose against God’s good will. The turning aside of that wrath was also part of the eternal plan of the Triune God. God planned a way to make peace without overlooking or ignoring just wrath caused by the harm of sin.
 
The eternal Son of God, Jesus, stepped into the world ultimately to bear wrath against sin on the cross, and in so doing to make an atonement, an at-one-ment, between God and humanity. He created reconciliation in himself.
 
How would you feel if God simply let Hitler, Gosnell, Stalin and Hussein get away with their harm? If there were no accounting for our evil, would the new creation seem just?
 
How can we fathom the cost of taking the accumulated just wrath against humanity’s collective sins upon one person? Only a divine person could bear it. God paid the price himself to create a future world of justice and mercy, a world that begins now in faith.

__________________________________________________

PRAY THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

Begin with the Jesus Prayer. Pray it reflectively several times, for yourself or on behalf of another. 

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Then pray the day’s prayer slowly and repeatedly for at least a minute (that’s about seven times). Allow the prayer to take you into the meaning of the day’s facet of Jesus’ name. Pray it for yourself and/or on behalf of another. Take your time and trust this process!

Lord Jesus Christ, Atoning Sacrifice, who interposed your precious blood between my sin and God’s holiness, wash me anew. 

__________________________________________________

LIVE INTO THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

He has granted to us his precious and very great promises, 
so that through them you might become partakers of his divine
nature . . . For this very reason, supplement your faith with
virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness,
brotherly affection and love (2 Peter 1: 4-7).

ROMANS 12: 1-2
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
 
CONSIDER
Because Jesus has offered himself as a propitiating sacrifice, we need no longer make sacrifices (animal or otherwise) to attain God’s favor. Yet we are called to offer ourselves to God in grateful response. How does Paul describe the qualities of being a living sacrifice?
 
Close by praying in song these verses from “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” 
 
Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Hither by thy help I’ve come;
And I hope, by thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God.
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed his precious blood. 
 
O to grace how great a debtor,
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let that grace now, like a fetter
Bind my wandering heart to thee!
Prone to wander, Lord I feel it,
Prone to leave thy precious love,
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it;
Seal it for the courts above. 
 
Robert Robinson. Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing. 1758.

LISTEN TO TODAY'S HYMN

Day 23, Monday (April 1) - Living into His Name

A PRESENT AND ACTIVE SAVIOR

Mediator
Day 23   Monday

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EXPLORE THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST

For us there is one God, the Father,
from whom are all things and for whom we exist,
and one Lord, Jesus Christ, 
through whom are all things and through whom we exist (1 Corinthians 8: 6).

1 TIMOTHY 2: 5-7
For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.
 
HEBREWS 9: 15
Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.
 
CONSIDER
A mediator brings two parties together. The mediator seeks to reconcile conflict and restore harmony. Jesus as our mediator is closely related to his being the new covenant. He “mediates” this covenant, this new agreement, because he has paid the ransom for our sins so that the way is clear for us to be reconnected to the Father. 
 
Often people in conflict cannot even speak directly to one another. They speak through a mediator. Jesus our Mediator came to speak the Father’s words and will to us. And he speaks back to his Father our need, our longing and our faith. He offers God to us and offers us to God. We meet through the one true Mediator.
 
Though sin has been atoned through Christ’s reconciling work, we will yet always meet the Father through the mediator. For Jesus remains fully God and fully human into eternity. He holds God and humanity together in himself forever.
 
As you pray today, remember that you do so because Jesus takes our feeble prayers and makes them his own, cleansing them, and offering them to the Father who delights to answer his Son.

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PRAY THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

Begin with the Jesus Prayer. Pray it reflectively several times, for yourself or on behalf of another. 

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Then pray the day’s prayer slowly and repeatedly for at least a minute (that’s about seven times). Allow the prayer to take you into the meaning of the day’s facet of Jesus’ name. Pray it for yourself and/or on behalf of another. Take your time and trust this process!

Lord Jesus Christ, true Mediator, ever bridge the chasm between eternal God and my stained, frail humanity.  

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LIVE INTO THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

He has granted to us his precious and very great promises, 
so that through them you might become partakers of his divine
nature . . . For this very reason, supplement your faith with
virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness,
brotherly affection and love (2 Peter 1: 4-7).

HEBREWS 12: 22-25
But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. 
 
See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven.
 
CONSIDER
This vision in Hebrews points us to the great day of Judgment and Reconciliation when God calls this life in this world to a halt and makes all things new. Our survival of that day is based on the mediating work of Jesus. And we will discover that it is much, much more than getting through divine scrutiny. It will be a day of high beauty and inexpressible joy as we join angelic beings in glorifying the God who saves. The final warning reminds us that joy is serious business. We dare not refuse the terms of the Mediator.  
 
Close in prayer this day, accepting freshly the terms of peace he has established for us! Explore this assurance by singing these verses from Wesley’s great hymn:
 
Arise, my soul, arise, shake off your guilty fears;
The bleeding Sacrifice in my behalf appears:
Before the throne my Surety stands, 
My name is written on his hands.
 
He ever lives above, for me to intercede,
His all redeeming love, his precious blood to plead:
His blood atoned for every race,
And sprinkles now the throne of grace.
 
Five bleeding wounds he bears, received on Calvary;
They pour effectual prayers, they strongly plead for me.
“Forgive him, O forgive,” they cry,
“Nor let that ransomed sinner die!”
 
My God is reconciled; his pardoning voice I hear;
He owns me for his child, I can no longer fear;
With confidence I now draw nigh, 
And “Father, Abba, Father!” cry.
 
Charles Wesley. Arise, My Soul, Arise. 1742.

LISTEN TO TODAY'S HYMN

 

Day 22, Sunday (March 31) - Living into His Name

A PRESENT AND ACTIVE SAVIOR

Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again. Past, present and future. Jesus who came to us in flesh and blood died once for all upon the cross to atone for our sins. Jesus who died is now, right now, risen and ascended. He actively mediates between the Father and us, Christ’s brothers and sisters. He applies the work he accomplished in the past to us in the present.
 
This Jesus who died once and lives now is not finished with this world. He will come again. He will set all things right. He will complete in us the process of becoming conformed to his image.
 
This week we study names of Jesus related to his present ministry among us that is based on what he has accomplished in the past and what we anticipate he will do in the future. We will see how active Jesus is among us today.
 
So our mosaic depicts the risen Jesus walking with two disciples on Easter Sunday along the Emmaus Road. It all looks so normal! Traveling companions on the way from one place to another. Jesus addressing people amidst ordinary life. But Luke tells us that something extraordinary was happening: “Beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24: 27). 
 
Don’t you wish you were part of that Bible study? Well, you are! By his Holy Spirit through his church, Jesus still teaches us who he is as his Word is read and interpreted. He is still with us on every daily path. He still walks through the world toward Home.
 

The New Covenant 
Day 22   Sunday

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EXPLORE THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

For us there is one God, the Father,
from whom are all things and for whom we exist,
and one Lord, Jesus Christ, 
through whom are all things and through whom we exist (1 Corinthians 8: 6).

EXODUS 24: 7-8
Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. And they said, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.”
 
MARK 14: 24
And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.”
 
ISAIAH 42: 6-7
“I am the LORD; I have called you in righteousness;
I will take you by the hand and keep you;
I will give you as a covenant for the people,
a light for the nations,
to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
from the prison those who sit in darkness.
 
JEREMIAH 31: 31, 33
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel . . . I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts.”
 
LUKE 22: 20
“This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” 
 
CONSIDER
A covenant is a binding agreement between people. In Scripture, a covenant expresses the LORD’s commitment to us and the response he requires. After the Exodus, the LORD gave the commandments to his people through Moses on Mt. Sinai. Their agreement to his Word was sealed through blood. Moses threw the blood on the people (!) as he declared, “This is the blood of the covenant.”
 
Jesus echoed these words in the Upper Room when he lifted the third cup of wine at the Passover meal and declared “This is my blood of the covenant.” A new deal was being made. New terms for the relationship between God and his people.
 
Jesus fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah in which the LORD said of his special Servant King: “I will give you as a covenant to the people.” He also fulfilled the prophecy spoken through Jeremiah in which the LORD promised that the new covenant would be written not on tablets of stone but within the human heart. 
 
The new covenant is Jesus himself. He fulfilled the binding terms from both God’s side and our side. He kept the covenant from the depths of his heart and in all his faithful actions. So Jesus is the “place” where we meet and enter renewed relationship with the Father. If you are in Jesus, you are in the new covenant. If this is true, what would it mean to your life today?
 
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PRAY THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

Begin with the Jesus Prayer. Pray it reflectively several times, for yourself or on behalf of another. 

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Then pray the day’s prayer slowly and repeatedly for at least a minute (that’s about seven times). Allow the prayer to take you into the meaning of the day’s facet of Jesus’ name. Pray it for yourself and/or on behalf of another. Take your time and trust this process!

Lord Jesus Christ, you are the new covenant between God and man, 
sealed in blood. In you, God and man meet, and are reconciled. 
Graft me into this promise!

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LIVE INTO THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

He has granted to us his precious and very great promises, 
so that through them you might become partakers of his divine
nature . . . For this very reason, supplement your faith with
virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness,
brotherly affection and love (2 Peter 1: 4-7). 

HEBREWS 8: 6, 10
But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. 
“For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel
       after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, 
and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God,
       and they shall be my people.”
 
CONSIDER
The longing inside us to keep covenant with our God is evidence of the work of the Spirit in our hearts. Now we are people in conflict. For we have still the sinful, selfish nature of the old self residing next to the Spirit of the new covenant. Can you feel your longing for the day when only the new heart for God remains? Invite the Holy Spirit to work more deeply within you today. 
 
Close by praying this beautiful benediction from Hebrews 13. Pray it first for yourself, then for someone you love:
 
Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.
 
 

Day 21, Saturday (March 30) - Living into His Name

JESUS SAID, "I AM"

One with the Father
Day 21   Saturday

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EXPLORE THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST

For us there is one God, the Father,
from whom are all things and for whom we exist,
and one Lord, Jesus Christ, 
through whom are all things and through whom we exist (1 Corinthians 8: 6).

JOHN 10: 24-34
So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not among my flock. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” 
 
The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?” The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.” Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’?”
 
CONSIDER
Jesus outrageously claimed, as a man, that he was “one” with God the Father. That means that who we see Jesus to be is what God is actually like. That means that what we see Jesus do is what God actually does in us and for us. That means there is no hidden God behind the back of Jesus. There is no secret God who will turn out to be other than who we see and hear Jesus to be.
 
What does Jesus’ oneness with the Father have to do with his declaration that he gives his sheep eternal life?
 
What does it have to do with our security that no one can snatch us out of his hand?

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PRAY THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

Begin with the Jesus Prayer. Pray it reflectively several times, for yourself or on behalf of another. 

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Then pray the day’s prayer slowly and repeatedly for at least a minute (that’s about seven times). Allow the prayer to take you into the meaning of the day’s facet of Jesus’ name. Pray it for yourself and/or on behalf of another. Take your time and trust this process!

Lord Jesus Christ, one with the Father, you are I AM,
the one true God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. There is no other.

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LIVE INTO THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

He has granted to us his precious and very great promises, 
so that through them you might become partakers of his divine
nature . . . For this very reason, supplement your faith with
virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness,
brotherly affection and love (2 Peter 1: 4-7).

1 CORINTHIANS 12: 12-13, 26-27
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. 
 
If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. 
 
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
 
CONSIDER
Jesus is one with his Father in the bonds of the Spirit. He declares that we who are joined to him are one body with him, the one who is one with the Father.
That means we are one with each other for we share the same Spirit.
 
How does this reality challenge my idea that spirituality is an individual choice?
 
What does this oneness of Christ’s people have to do with the choices I make to pursue others who belong to him? To pursue reconciliation? To love those who are harder to love? To gather wandering sheep? To make the effort to show up? To open my heart? To seek greater expression of oneness in Christ who is one with the Father?
 
Close by singing these verses from the mystical ancient hymn “Of the Father’s Love Begotten:”
 
Of the Father’s love begotten, ere the worlds began to be,
He is Alpha and Omega, he the source, the ending he,
Of the things that are, that have been, and that future years shall see,
Evermore and evermore!
 
At his word, the worlds were framed. He commanded; it was done.
Heaven and earth and depths of ocean in their threefold order one;
All that grows beneath the shining of the moon and the burning sun,
Evermore and evermore!
 
He is found in human fashion, death and sorrow here to know,
That the race of Adam’s children doomed by law to endless woe,
May not henceforth die and perish in the dreadful gulf below,
Evermore and evermore!
 
Aurelius Prudentius, AD 400, trans. John Mason Neale. Of the Father’s Love Begotten. 1854.

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Day 20, Friday (March 29) - Living into His Name

JESUS SAID, "I AM"

The True Vine
Day 20   Friday

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EXPLORE THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST

For us there is one God, the Father,
from whom are all things and for whom we exist,
and one Lord, Jesus Christ, 
through whom are all things and through whom we exist (1 Corinthians 8: 6).

JOHN 15: 1-11
I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
 
CONSIDER
Grapevines were all over ancient Israel. Wine was a staple of life and vineyards were crucial to the life and economy of God’s people. Also, Israel herself was likened to a vineyard planted by the LORD (Isaiah 5). Across the Temple was a gilded grapevine symbolizing a special people. But the prophet declared that the people had failed to produce a harvest. They were barren of faithfulness.
 
How does this context help us understand why Jesus likened himself to a vine?
 
How is Christ’s faithfulness necessary to our faithfulness and fruitfulness?
 
How does Jesus tell us to remain, or abide, in him, the Vine?

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PRAY THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

Begin with the Jesus Prayer. Pray it reflectively several times, for yourself or on behalf of another. 

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Then pray the day’s prayer slowly and repeatedly for at least a minute (that’s about seven times). Allow the prayer to take you into the meaning of the day’s facet of Jesus’ name. Pray it for yourself and/or on behalf of another. Take your time and trust this process!

Lord Jesus Christ, True Vine to my small branch,
hold me fast today and grow your fruit through me
that the world might taste you. 

__________________________________________________

LIVE INTO THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

He has granted to us his precious and very great promises, 
so that through them you might become partakers of his divine
nature . . . For this very reason, supplement your faith with
virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness,
brotherly affection and love (2 Peter 1: 4-7).

PSALM  52: 8-9
But I am like a green olive tree
in the house of God.
 
I trust in the steadfast love of God
forever and ever.
I will thank you forever,
because you have done it.
I will wait for your name, for it is good,
in the presence of the godly.
 
GALATIANS 5: 22-25
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.
 
CONSIDER
The fruit of living from Jesus the Vine is a life that tastes like this Galatians passage. What tips does Psalm 52 give us for things we can do in order to live more as a fruitful vine?
 
What is the connection between living from Jesus and living for Jesus?
 
Close in prayer as you meditate on lines from this hymn, 
 
Thou true life-giving Vine, let me thy sweetness prove;
Renew my life with thine, refresh my soul with love.
Rough paths my feet have trod, since first their course began;
Feed me, thou Bread of God, help me, thou Son of Man.
 
John S. B. Monsell. I Hunger and I Thirst. 1866.

LISTEN TO TODAY'S HYMN